x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Facebook owner is man of the year, and a new era

In less than seven years, Mark Zuckerberg has wired together a twelfth of humanity into a single network, thereby creating a social entity almost twice as large as the US.

Hail to the chief. If, with almost 600 million members, Facebook has become its own borderless realm, then founder Mark Zuckerberg is now its leader. The latest accolade for the Harvard dropout arrived earlier this week when Mr Zuckerberg was named Time's Person of the Year.

That a pillar of the printed word such as Time - though declining in influence - should bestow this award on the 26-year-old king of the online domain, shows how much the world has changed, even if Time may be a little late in catching on.

"In less than seven years, Zuckerberg [has] wired together a twelfth of humanity into a single network, thereby creating a social entity almost twice as large as the US," said Lev Grossman, a journalist at Time. "We have entered the Facebook age."

Even more interesting than Mr Zuckerberg's selection was the choice of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, as a runner-up. His influence has also been attained online. Assange was far and away the winner of an online poll of readers, with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey, coming a distant second.

The nature of this year's winners, when compared with those of the recent past, show how traditional centres of power are eroding in influence. The Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin was Time's selection in 2007. The US president Barack Obama won in 2008 and last year, in the midst of the global financial meltdown, the accolade was handed to the head of the US Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke, a leading figure in the rescue of the global economy. Time's selection for 2010 demonstrates that an age of cyber-power has dawned.

In some ways, this has been a liberating development; the global village is well and truly here, and "transparency" has become one of the buzzwords of the year. But it is also disorienting. Issues of privacy and security continue to hound Facebook. The aftershocks from the WikiLeaks revelations, and how they have undermined the efforts of diplomats to speak freely, will be felt for many years to come.

Time says that Zuckerberg deserves the award for "changing how we all live our lives". It will take more than a year to judge whether this has been for better or worse.