Breaking Down the TIME 100 Poll 2012

Annually, USA’s TIME magazine hosts an online poll of 100+ names to be voted as the most influential nominees. These nominees range from individuals such as Rihanna and Aung San Suu Kyi to icons like Anonymous and the Kony 2012 movement. The list is meant to reflect the “leaders, artists, innovators, icons and heroes you think are the most influential people in the world,” but based on the names I went through (it’s a fairly long list) I estimate the majority are from the States.

I  feel like since the TIME 100 Poll was first introduced, the poll has consisted of a list in which half the nominees are actually “influential” icons and the other half were chosen because TIME staff thought “Hey, if we put [inset pop icon name here] on the poll, we’ll get thousands of their followers to visit our site! It’s the ultimate marketing strategy that doesn’t cost us a dime! I mean, it’s not like any of these obscure foreign icons will win…”

…but then “foreigners” did win. Of particular interest, Korean pop star Rain won the poll last year with “406,252 ‘influential’ votes and 33,813 ‘not influential’ votes.” He also won in 2006 and 2007, and came in second during 2008. I remember reading the comments for last year’s publication, and there was quite a bit of hate on both sides. Regardless, you’d think TIME would give Rain some credit for his worldwide following but when it came to the description of his accomplishments, one can’t help but feel a bit of animosity,

The South Korean pop star turned actor Rain, 28, took the top spot in the TIME 100 reader poll for the third year, trouncing competitors from Barack Obama to Lady Gaga. That’s pretty impressive online power for a guy whose main claim to Western fame is a role in the 2009 film Ninja Assassin.

(emphasis is mine)

This year, Rain didn’t make it to the list of nominees. Which brings to my biggest question regarding the TIME 100 Poll: how do these nominees get chosen? Who chooses them? (If you happen to find out, let me know! I scavenged TIME’s site but came up empty.)

One thing that is severely overlooked with regards to this poll is the nature of the voting process: the descriptions of each nominee are the contributing factor to their success during the polling. I believe this for a number of reasons:

1. No registration is required to vote. You can vote as many times as you like per day. This means that pop star fans will be flocking to vote for their idols, the main reason I believe they are included on the list—to generate traffic. This leads me to my second point…

2. There are so many people on the list that the majority of voters that actually stick around to see who else is on the list are voting purely based on the content of each nominee’s description.

To conclude my rant, the descriptions are what make the nominee in the TIME 100 Poll. Since TIME writes the descriptions, which vary in persuasive tone, and seemingly chooses nominees arbitrarily, I think the poll is more or less a hit and miss competition. There are definitely nominees whose influence is indisputable, but I find a lot of them on grey ground. This is usually the case when I read the descriptions for actors/actresses and some CEO’s. Of course, influence is arguable in all cases.

Despite my apprehensiveness, I believe the poll is a great opportunity for people to receive well-deserved recognition for their work during the year and for readers to learn about what people are doing all over the world.  It makes me think about what “influence” actually means to me and what it could mean to other people around the world. What do you think of the TIME 100 Poll?

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