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Sep 29, 2010 9:44 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Twins from Quogue are featured in new Facebook movie, 'The Social Network'

Sep 29, 2010 9:44 AM

Believe it or not, Tyler Winklevoss has a Facebook account. He even has a whopping 1,960 friends—although, perhaps not surprisingly, Mark Zuckerberg is not among them.

Mr. Winklevoss and his identical twin brother, Cameron, Olympic rowers who grew up as part-time residents of Quogue, are central characters in the contentious history of the all-encompassing social networking website—and, starting this week, also the inspiration for key characters in a major motion picture.

The twins sued Mr. Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, in 2004, claiming he stole the idea for the website from them while they were all students at Harvard University. With 500 million active users, Facebook has since exploded into a social institution, an internet hub where users post photographs and personal information, meet people, and keep tabs on each other.

The birth of Facebook in the halls of Harvard is the subject of the upcoming movie “The Social Network,” which debuts in theaters tomorrow, October 1, and threatens to make the Winklevoss twins famous beyond their strong performance at the 2008 Beijing Olympic games.

The brothers, now 29, recently completed a Master of Business Administration program in Oxford, England, and are now busy training in Princeton, New Jersey, for the 2012 Olympics. This week, Tyler Winklevoss said that, while it is “surreal” to be a movie character, he has already seen “The Social Network” and is pleased with its portrayal of him and his brother.

“I think, essentially, we’re portrayed as guys who were trying to do the right thing and working within the system, and we have a strong sense of moral code and ethics, and we were taken advantage by someone who didn’t have those qualities,” he said this week.

In the 2004 lawsuit, the Winklevosses and another Harvard student, Divya Narenda, claimed that they hired Mr. Zuckerberg in 2003 to write computer code for their own social networking project, ConnectU. In 2004, they claim, Mr. Zuckerberg launched Facebook, using their business plan and computer code.

“When he launched Facebook, it was clearly ... bridge burning would be an understatement,” Mr. Winklevoss said. “And we immediately went about calling him out for it, saying, ‘Hey, what are you doing? This is a project we all were working on and you’re a partner in.’”

Mr. Winklevoss said the two parties reached a monetary settlement in 2008, although he declined to talk about it in detail. The defendants are now appealing the enforcement of the settlement. “We are trying to overturn it because we allege that the Facebook misled us as to the value of the stock and equity that they gave us,” he said.

Facebook spokesman Larry Yu responded to the allegations in a brief statement on Tuesday.

“We’ve considered the Winklevoss dispute closed for years and we wish them well in their future endeavors,” Mr. Yu wrote in an e-mail. “For our part, we’re focused on delivering a fun, valuable and enriching experience for the people who use Facebook.”

According to Mr. Winklevoss, “The Social Network” does not paint a flattering picture of Mr. Zuckerberg, who is played by Jesse Eisenberg—although the twin said the reality of the situation is even more damning.

“He is portrayed as someone who betrayed us and his best friend, Divya,” he said. “Believe it or not, people would be surprised to learn, it’s actually more of a generous picture of him than he really deserves. So it’s quite negative, but unfortunately the reality is that Mark Zuckerberg is actually a more unethical person than his movie counterpart.”

The actor Josh Pence plays Tyler Winklevoss and Armie Hammer plays Cameron Winklevoss, although Mr. Hammer’s face is often superimposed onto Mr. Pence’s body, allowing him to act as both twins when needed, according to Mr. Winklevoss. He said he and his brother met the actors when they came to England this summer to film a scene at the Henley Royal Regatta. A New York Times review called the high-achieving Winklevoss twins, as they are portrayed in “The Social Network,” “a pair of near-comically-perfect supermen”—a characterization that Mr. Winklevoss rejected.

“Well, as much as I’d like to believe we are supermen, we’re not supermen,” Mr. Winklevoss said. “We’re just guys who have tried to do our best to work hard at things that we’ve been interested in and passionate about. We enjoy challenges and trying to be good at something. I don’t characterize myself or think of myself as a superman, although that’s flattering.”

Mr. Winklevoss said that none of the people behind “The Social Network” contacted the twins while putting together the film, which was directed by David Fincher, the man behind “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Fight Club” and “Se7en.” The twin said he suspected there was enough fodder in public court documents related to the lawsuit to piece together a story.

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