Time’s Person of the Year is a popularity contest for Morsi and other controversial leaders

November 27, 2012

After Egyptian President President Mohamed Morsi first announced, then back peddled, then re-doubled his attempt to expand his own powers, Egyptians marched on Tahrir square in protest. But in addition to taking to the streets, some have also taken to Time magazine's Web site, where an ongoing poll of the "peoples' choice" for Time's Person of the Year contest currently shows Morsi in the top spot of both best and worst candidates.


Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi speaks to reporters. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Time justified Morsi's selection as one of the 50 candidates for the distinction by billing him as being in a "prime position to shape the region's future" and trumpeting his role in the Israel-Gaza conflict, saying "as rockets exploded over Gaza and Israel, he played an instrumental — some would say historic — role in brokering a cease-fire between Hamas and the government of Benjamin Netanyahu." 

More than 158,851 people had voted for Morsi as of Tuesday afternoon, but in a strange twist, Morsi also was leading the contest for who shouldn't be person of the year, as well.

Unsurprisingly, Morsi's front-runner standing prompted a strong negative reaction among Twitter users, which might explain why he's also one of the most-voted "no way" candidates, with 132,270 votes:

 

 

Some even more controversial characters fill out the rest of Time's top contenders this year. Autocratic North Korean ruler Kim Jon Un is in second place with 107,704 votes, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is fourth. (Pakistani teen education crusader Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Pakistani Taliban, is in third, and much-beloved South Korean rapper Psy is fifth).

It's not unusual for the peoples' choice award to go to international strongmen or controversial figures. Past top user picks have been Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2011 and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in 2010, with Erdogan coming in second that year.

Time has said the distinction isn't an honor or award (past winners have been Stalin and Hitler, for example), but simply the person who has "most influenced the news."

And the popular vote is just one of the guidelines Time's editors use in their final decision, so these rankings might not amount to much in terms of ink and fanfare. 

Still, it seems the reader's choice part of the contest can become something of an Internet popularity referendum. 

Last year, Erdogan won with more than 122,000 votes. But like Morsi, he also carried the majority of the vote arguing that he should not be the magazine's choice, thanks to an aggressive outreach campaign in his home country.

Erdogan has been popular, but polarizing. He led his AK-Party to a third victory in national elections by a landslide last year, but he's also been accused of limiting media freedoms and oversaw the introduction of new Internet-filtering systems.

Throughout Time's contest, an anonymous "Vote No" e-mail circulated among Turkish Internet users, warning readers of ominous "consequences" if Erdogan won the poll:

“I hope you can imagine what the consequences of winning this kind of a poll would be for someone craving to be a Sultan, and by participating in this voting, I invite you to not allow this environment to evolve,” the email says.

In Erdogan's case, it seems, both the supporters and detractors came out in force.

It's worth noting that the vote has in the past been hijacked by domestic activists, as well. Assange's rise to the top of the list in 2010 was partly thanks to an online campaign by Anonymous, a vociferous hacker group that supports him. In 2009, the online forum 4chan took over the poll and voted its founder to the top position, with the initials of the rest of the candidates spelling out a sexual reference.

When the vote-rigging was pointed out, a Time editor provided some perspective.

“I would remind anyone who doubts the results that this is an Internet poll," Time.com’s managing editor Josh Tyrangiel told Techcrunch. "Doubting the results is kind of the point.”

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Max Fisher · November 27, 2012