Of all the stats splashed across Time‘s Person of the Year profile of Mark Zuckerberg , the most noteworthy might be that one out of every 12 people on the Earth has a Facebook account.
The social networking service, in other words, is everywhere. And outside of the site’s Web-enabled walled garden, nowhere was Facebook’s impact felt more significantly in 2010 than in pop culture. From an impromptu concert by one of hip-hop’s biggest names to a movie that has been tearing up the awards circuit and beyond, Facebook kept coming up again and again in the entertainment conversation du jour.
It’s a big step up from 2009, which didn’t exactly end well for the company. When “30 Rock” wasn’t mocking Facebook with its fictional creation of YouFace, the world’s most inane social networking site, the dotcom was enraging its users with a whole-scale reconfiguring of its privacy settings. Sony, meanwhile, was gearing up plans to make “The Social Network,” a film that would expose Facebook’s controversial founding and was based on a script that made the year’s vaunted Black List of Hollywood’s finest unproduced scripts.
At the same time, Facebook approached the 550 million-member mark, the company seemed suddenly vulnerable, with the public increasingly concerned that the site which had become an integral part of the social experience was now some sort of Web 2.0-assisted Big Brother. And what about that Net-based social experience? Was this really the direction in which we wanted the culture to travel?
“It’s not normal,” said comedian Ricky Gervais in a Web chat in January, going on to skewer the site’s discourse. “My name is Charlie. This is my cat. I live with my mum.”
But Facebook wasn’t just about basement-dwelling cat lovers, was it? A grassroots Facebook campaign materialized around the idea of getting Betty White to host “Saturday Night Live.” And it worked. Kanye West chose Facebook’s Palo Alto headquarters, of all places, as the venue to perform a mini-set of new material. (Of course, video of the performance made its way to YouTube.) In the fall, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert utilized Facebook to promote their Washington, D.C., rallies, attracting almost 300,000 “definite” attendees.
And don’t forget about Facebook’s role in the short-lived tradition of “icing,” in which young drinkers photographed their friends pounding Smirnoff Ice, then posted pics on their pages. It wasn’t just those types of photos that swept through Facebook in 2010: There was a nude Courtney Love, Vice President Joe Biden and conservative commentator Laura Ingraham hanging out, and much more. Plus the site became Sarah Palin’s go-to platform for hitting back against critics and causes.
After months of hype and the recruitment of a cast that included Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake, the film’s first teaser trailer dropped in June. The buzz on the flick still hasn’t quieted. Virtually sweeping critics associations awards and nabbing six Golden Globe nominations this week, “Social Network” has established itself as a front-runner to win all manner of Oscars. It is, simply put, a truly excellent movie.
It just might not be entirely based in reality. Producers of the film and Facebook have been duking it out in the media about how accurate a picture the film presents of the social network’s creation at Harvard in 2004, including accusations that Zuckerberg stole the idea from classmates and screwed over one of its founding members. Competing claims aside, Facebook once again found itself on the defensive. Zuckerberg jumped into damage-control mode.
The 26-year-old CEO appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to announce a $100 million donation to the Newark, New Jersey, public school system. He sat down for a wide-ranging, largely softball interview with “60 Minutes.” He recorded his voice for a cameo in “The Simpsons.” And this month, he joined Bill Gates and Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge , a consortium of billionaires who commit to giving the majority of their wealth to charity.
“People wait until late in their career to give back. But why wait when there is so much to be done?” Zuckerberg said in a statement. “With a generation of younger folks who have thrived on the success of their companies, there is a big opportunity for many of us to give back earlier in our lifetime and see the impact of our philanthropic efforts.”
Zuckerberg even took his staff to see “The Social Network,” and told everyone who would listen that he actually enjoyed the film. High road, taken.
And so the year is ending just as it began, with Facebook at the epicenter of the pop-culture universe. The haters will remain, many of them still among the site’s 550 million users. Time‘s Person of the Year would expect nothing else. “I mean, people write all kinds of different things, from ‘It’s the greatest thing that’s ever existed’ to ‘It’s the worst thing that’s ever existed,’ ” he said.
The only thing he seemingly might wish to change in 2011 is for his name to be a less frequent topic for conversation than his company’s. As he told the magazine, “I usually don’t like things that are too much about me.”