The man behind the world’s largest social network has been named Time’s Person of the Year.
Time magazine announced today that its editors picked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for the annual honor, beating out runners-up Julian Assange, the man behind the internationally controversial WikiLeaks, and the Tea Party.
Time credited Zuckerberg with connecting more than half a billion people with through Facebook and mapping the social relations among them. And because Facebook’s 26-year-old CEO also is credited with creating a new system of exchanging information that is changing how people live their lives, he was named Person of the Year.
“The way we connect with one another and with the institutions in our lives is evolving,” wrote Time managing editor Richard Stengel in an essay posted online today. “Our sense of identity is more variable, while our sense of privacy is expanding. What was once considered intimate is now shared among millions with a keystroke.”
Zuckerberg, according to Stengel, is at the epicenter of these cultural and social changes.
“The social-networking platform he invented is closing in on 600 million users,” he added. “In a single day, about a billion new pieces of content are posted on Facebook. It is the connective tissue for nearly a tenth of the planet. Facebook is now the third-largest country on Earth and surely has more information about its citizens than any government does. Zuckerberg, a Harvard dropout, is its T-shirt-wearing head of state.”
Hadley Reynolds, an analyst with IDC, noted that 2010 was the year when the media hype about Zuckerberg went through the roof.
“Hopefully, Time is giving him the recognition because he is the youngest tech baron to pledge to give away billions — in his case, before they’ve even been monetized. Bill Gates had practically retire before he got the Time kudo in 2005. More likely, they know Zuckerberg’s face will sell magazines, and they can only dream of being in touch with an audience like the one Facebook touches every minute.”
Zuckerberg, undoubtedly, has gained a lot of attention this past year.
Facebook took a lot of heat this year for a string of privacy issues, with Zuckerberg being seen as the man behind the company’s liberal stance on users’ privacy. And when the furor was just cooling down, Zuckerberg found himself as the focus of the movie The Social Network , which portrayed him as a socially inept and angry young man who becomes more villain than hero through the course of the creation of Facebook.
However, Zuckerberg seemed to polish his image in September when he created a new foundation called Startup: Education and donated $100 million to the struggling Newark, N.J., school system. Earlier this month, he pledged to donate the majority of his wealth to charity.
Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, said he was surprised that this year’s Person of the Year wasn’t Assange since WikiLeaks has made such a public splash, as well as a hefty impact on various governments.
“I actually thought Julian Assange had a bigger impact this year because he moved governments,” Enderle said. “It made me feel like they were pressured to take the less controversial person. Facebook is very powerful but it isn’t yet a force for anything. Twitter is actually stronger when it comes to world changing events. But Zuckerberg would have been my second choice.”
The recognition, of course, is the least of the hacker-turned-whistleblower’s concerns right now given that he’s under house arrest in England following an arrest warrant issued by Swedish officials who want to question him regarding two rape allegations. Assange, an Australian, has been granted bail but remains in custody pending an appeal by Swedish authorities.
Assange and his legal term assert that his arrest on Dec. 7 is related to WikiLeaks recent release of sensitive U.S. diplomatic cables.
Assange and WikiLeaks have elicited widely varying reactions, being condemned by U.S. government officials but defended by the Internet Society (at least in terms of speaking out against online attacks on the WikiLeaks site) and praised by Pentagon Papers exposer Daniel Ellsberg.
The public appetite for the WikiLeaks story has been strong, with AOL finding WikiLeaks to be among the most searched terms of the year. Meanwhile, an online hacktivist group called Anonymous has claimed responsibility for knocking offline Websites that have cut ties with WikiLeaks. The attacks have also sparked fresh discussion about defending against distributed denial-of-service attacks.
Of WikiLeaks, Time writes: “In 2010, WikiLeaks became a revolutionary force, wresting secrets into the public domain on a scale without precedent. Assange and company wrought deep disruptions in the marketplace of state power, much as tech-savvy insurgents before them had disrupted markets in music, film and publishing. The currency of information, scattered to the four corners of the globe, is roiling not only U.S. foreign relations but also the alliances and internal politics of other nations.”
Rounding out Time’s 2010 Person of the Year runners-up are the Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, the Tea Party and the Chilean Miners.
With notes from Bob Brown.