Did TIME blink by picking Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg as person of the year?
Considering how Facebook is rewriting the rules for media and social interaction, it's hard to dispute TIME magazine choosing the social network's 20-something wunderkind founder Mark Zuckerberg as its person of the year (and could they have chosen a weirder-looking photo?).
Still, there's a sense the magazine ducked controversy by avoiding the man in media everyone is talking about right now, Wikileaks mastermind Julian Assange.
There's good reason for sidestepping Assange; it's tough to know the real impact of Wikileaks' revelations, which have yet to produce a blockbuster story beyond the tale of how the top-secret government documents they have published were stolen in the first place. And there's the not-so-small matter of glorifying a man now under arrest in Europe for sexually assaulting two women.
But Assange has shown how the pervasive, decentralized power of the Internet can subvert the secrecy of the most powerful nations. Despite attempts to block and shutdown Wikileaks, the site's material lives on in the marrow of thousands of computers across the Internet. And prosecution of Assange for publishing the material sets a dangerous precedent, threatening the security of any journalist who might think of revealing material a government has declared top secret.
While Zuckerberg's selection keeps TIME from accusations of boosting an enemy of the U.S., his elevation probably should have happened a year or two ago. With 500-million users, Facebook is quickly becoming the world's portal to the Internet and our fellow man, allowing folks to organize everything from anti-guerrilla protests in Columbia to a fan-led movement to get Betty White on Saturday Night Live.
Appearing on NBC's Today show this morning, TIME editor Richard Stengel revealed the magazine's top list, showing that Assange placed third behind the Tea Party, followed by Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai and the rescued Chilean miners.
Seems a relatively uninspiring list for tumultuous year. And by choosing Zuckerberg, TIME picked highlighting a trend already upon us over focusing on the mind behind a seismic shift to come.