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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Facebook hits the silver screen this fall with two movies coming out within weeks of each other at a time when social media is at an all-time high.
Independent documentary "Catfish" and glitzy Hollywood feature "The Social Network" couldn't be more different. But both could very well be two sides of the same coin.
"We've gotten to a point where it's time to reflect on it," said "Catfish" filmmaker Ariel Schulman.
"'The Social Network' shows us how we got here. 'Catfish' shows us where we're at."
Facebook is the most popular social networking site in the world with over 500 million active users. Sites like MySpace, microblogging site Twitter, and Tumblr are also thriving, creating an intricate online world where everything from dating websites to video game communities have users who put their personal lives out on public display.
As "Catfish" illustrates, not everyone on these sites is who they say they are.
"Catfish", which opens in U.S. theaters on Friday, follows Nev Schulman, a photographer who falls in love with a girl on Facebook. Over time, their romance blossoms and they begin to text and talk on the phone.
When Nev, his brother Ariel and their friend Henry discover some startling revelations, they set off on a road trip to meet the girl in person.
"The Social Network," arrives on October 1, with a pedigree that includes Oscar-nominated David Fincher directing from a screenplay by the four-time Emmy Award winning Aaron Sorkin.
The film is based on Ben Mezrich's book "The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal." Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, now 26, is played by Jesse Eisenberg.
"It's interesting that these two movies are coming out at the same time," said Schulman, who directed "Catfish" with Henry Joost.
"We are however many years in to the social networking phenomenon and I think it has hit a tipping point," he said.
Schulman, along with Joost, shot his brother Nev's 2008 real-life romance and road trip to visit the girl of his dreams. He felt there is now a sort of "collective subconscious" around Facebook.
Schulman likens social networks to a "collection of avatars" where users put up "ideal versions of themselves" for others to see.
"We each play the role of our own personal publicist that way," he noted, cautioning that because of that, "you can't go online naively."
"You've got to protect yourself," said Schulman. "Everyone has different intentions."
Ironically for an actor portraying the man now in charge of Facebook in "Social Network," Eisenberg himself is not a Facebook user, nor does he ever plan to be.
"If you're in a public setting like (actors) are, you come to really value your privacy," he said.
However, Eisenberg is quick to point out that it's not "the medium that's the danger, it's the people using the medium" and that's why he's chosen to stay off it.
Though Nev Schulman says he doesn't feel completely protected from his "Catfish" situation happening again, he says he has no regrets about his Facebook romance.
"I ended up going on a great life experience with my brother and my dear friend Henry," said Nev Schulman.
What was real, were the life lessons that came with all that.
"I now have a better understanding of what I thought I wanted, what I really want and what's important insofar as my relationships with friends and family," he said. "This experience has allowed me to grow and change for the better."
Editing by Jill Serjeant