The award is traditionally given to the person (or group/ product/ idea) who (/which) is deemed to have most influenced world culture or news over the past year. American economist and US Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, Barack Obama and even the Queen (who, fact fans, won it at the same age as Zuckerberg) have all been former recipients of the title. In an editorial, Time magazine editor Rick Stengel said Zuckerberg had been chosen for ‘connecting more than half a billion people and mapping the social relations among them; for creating a new system of exchanging information; and for changing how we live our lives’. Quite an accolade, considering he only started the company seven years ago.
Thousands of Assange supporters (collective noun: ‘a sanctimonium’?) aren’t convinced, though. They’ve used the magazine’s website to point an accusatory finger at Time’s editors, calling them ‘shameless cowards’ for allegedly caving under pressure from the US government, which has been embarrassed by leaks from Assange’s website. And since hell apparently hath no fury like an Assange fan spurned, maybe it won't be long before the Time website suffers the same fate as Visa, Mastercard and other Wikileaks detractors.
You can sort of understand their wrath: despite (the unauthorised) movie The Social Network, which brought Zuckerberg’s name to the masses, Assange has arguably commanded more headlines and had far more influence over the political agenda than the Facebook founder this year (barring a late Facebook Chat intervention in the stalled Israeli-Palestine negotiations).
On the other hand, Zuckerberg - now one of the youngest billionaires in the world - has built a website described by Stengel as having ‘wired together a twelfth of humanity into a single network’, creating a ‘social entity almost twice as large as the US’. If Facebook were a country, it would be the world’s third-largest. So his site has clearly had a huge impact. And now he's signed up to a philanthropic pledge to give away at least half his wealth, all the money he's made in the process should have an impact elsewhere too. So who are we to argue with his latest plaudit?