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

Facebook founder donates $100M to Newark schools ahead of controversial movie.

ByABC News
September 23, 2010, 10:56 AM

Sept. 23, 2010— -- Whatever the intention, $100 million is a lot of money.

But as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg prepares to announce a $100 million charitable donation to Newark, N.J., public schools, some wonder, why now?

News broke Wednesday that Zuckerberg, Newark Mayor Cory Booker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are expected to announce the philanthropic effort -- believed to be Zuckerberg's largest-ever public charitable donation -- on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" Friday.

But the timing of Zuckerberg's announcement has led some to speculate whether the donation could be part of an effort to help bolster the young CEO's public profile, as well as the image of a company that's weathered a few PR storms over the past couple of years.

The Oprah-worthy announcement comes just one week before the release of "The Social Network," a Hollywood movie expected to depict Zuckerberg as a socially-awkward genius hungry for power and prestige.

And media outlets reported the donation on the same day that Forbes released its annual list of the 400 richest Americans. The 26-year-old Zuckerberg, with a reported net worth of $6.7 billion, ranked 35th on the Forbes list, ahead of even Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

In a blog post Thursday, Dan Bigman, executive editor for business news at Forbes, said the timing of the announcement is "curious," especially given that Facebook is facing some very high stakes.

The company's reach -- and its CEO's wealth -- may be growing steadily, but so are concerns by regulators and activists about personal data and privacy.

"Coupled with some high-profile PR flubs in recent years, Zuckerberg's public profile could use some burnishing," he said. "A recent de rigeur profile in The New Yorker was supposed to help, but it simply reinforced the perception of Zuckerberg as a socially awkward, insatiably driven young man with questionable maturity and increasing power."

Early reports indicate that the Aaron Sorkin-penned movie, "The Social Network," will only further tarnish his image.The film, based on Ben Mezrich's steamy book, "The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal," relies heavily on accounts from one source -- Zuckerberg's estranged co-founder Eduardo Saverin.

Facebook declined to participate in the creation of the movie, and in an interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer, Zuckerberg called the movie "fiction."

But for the average theater-goer it may be the only window into the massively powerful company. And if it is, they might not like the view.