Zuckerberg's $100M Donation: Good PR or Just Generosity?

"In fact, said sources, Zuckerberg actually has been cooking up the deal since he and high-profile Newark Mayor Cory Booker started kibitzing over the idea while both attended the Allen & Co. conference in July," Swisher wrote.

She also reported that Zuckerberg's interest in the field may have started with his longtime girlfriend, Priscilla Chan, who is now a medical student but started out as a teacher after college.

Still, some say it's hard to withhold suspicion.

"You can't help but be skeptical of the timing," said Adam Ostrow, editor-in-chief of the social media blog Mashable. "Making a huge donation on the eve of the movie coming out, you'd have to think that Facebook was trying in some way to change the public's perception of Zuckerberg. For many people, especially those not in the tech community who are familiar with the Facebook back story and the controversy of how it started, 'The Social Network' movie is going to be their first exposure to the back story of Facebook and its beginning."

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And Hollywood's overly-dramatic treatment of the tale will likely not paint Zuckerberg in the most positive light, he said.

But despite the timing, the gift may still be a good fit for Facebook.

"That being said, it is a generous gift and the cause he picked makes sense," he said. "When you think about empowering young people with technology, I think this makes a lot of sense in terms of giving back to the community that Facebook ultimately serves and it will continue to serve as people get online for the first time."

And public relations experts say that shoring up public support before taking a potential PR hit is a smart strategy.

"Certainly, the larger your goodwill reservoir, the more you can withstand crisis," said Michael Cherenson, executive vice president of public relations for the Success Communications Group.

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He said the contribution could be part of an effort to show Zuckerberg as a business thought leader who gives back and not just a computer geek. Choosing education as his cause is also a wise choice, given Facebook's younger demographic and concerns about cyber-bullying and online privacy, he said.

"I think it seems like [they're taking] a pro-active approach on building a goodwill reservoir and credibility bank to take him to the next level in terms of reputation," he said.

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