Back in March 2012, prominent blogger and former CNN bureau chief Rebecca MacKinnon stated that she believed Facebook yielded as much power as a nation.
"Sovereignty and power are shifting," she told the New Scientist. "Before the internet, these notions were controlled by nation states. But companies like Facebook are the sovereigns of cyberspace.
"Facebook exercises power by shaping the way you interact with the world. It makes decisions about what you can do and not do on its network. And there are only a few countries in the world where Facebook is not the most popular social network."
Though MacKinnon's comments could justifiably be called hyperbolic—nation states collect taxes, while Facebook does not— she does make a very salient point. Whether we want to admit it or not, Facebook, more so than any other social media platform, has ingrained itself on to our society. The social network plays a prominent role in how we vote, how we worship, and how people do their jobs.
We took MacKinnon's argument into consideration when making our list of 2012’s most influential Facebook users. This list is unconventional insofar as it doesn't enumerate the people with the most likes. This isn't a popularity contest.
Instead, we took a look back at what were the biggest Facebook stories of 2012 and the players involved. It's those people, not celebrities (sorry, Rihanna), who helped shape the biggest online community in the world.
1) George Takei
Not only is Mr. Sulu a constant purveyor of hilarity on the social network—if you've been on Facebook for longer than a day, chances are one of your friends has reshared one of Takei's memetastic posts—he's also been one of its biggest critics.
Back in June 2012, Takei stood on top of his soap box and told his millions of followers that he was unhappy with Facebook's Promoted Posts, a feature that promised to expand the audience reach of any given post for a fee.
"I understand that [Facebook] has to make money, especially now that it is public," wrote Takei, "but in my view this development turns the notion of 'fans' on its head."
Takei still posts regularly on his Facebook fan page, though this November he announced that he was joining Tumblr, perhaps a sign that he was moving on.
2) Barack Obama
President Barack Obama had a banner year in 2012 and social media played a huge role.
Much like he did in 2008, President Obama used various social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and even Reddit—where he did an Ask Me Anything session so popular, it briefly took down the site—to stay in the White House for a second presidential term.
Facebook was the lynchpin for Obama's social media success. His Facebook page, which currently has more than 34 million likes, became ground zero for disseminating his campaign's message, engaging his supporters via Facebook updates, pictures, and infographics.
Mitt Romney, who at his peak had close to 14 million followers, never had a chance.
It's no surprise then that the president set three new social-media Guinness World Records the day after his re-election. Following his victory, the Obama campaign posted an image of him hugging his wife with the caption "Four more years." That Facebook picture was liked more than 3.3 million times less than 12 hours after going up, establishing a world record for "Most likes on a Facebook item in 24 hours" and "Most likes on a Facebook item ever." As of this writing, the post has more than 4.4 million likes and has been shared a whopping 580,697 times.
If anything, 2012 was the year of court cases for the social network
Most notably, Facebook has been embroiled in a class action lawsuit that goes back to 2011 involving its "Sponsored Stories" ad program. The plaintiffs alleged that Facebook had used their likeness in paid advertisements without their authorization. Facebook tried to settle the case in August 2012, but U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg rejected the settlement citing "serious concerns" over its terms. The case was finally settled in early December 2012.
But it hasn't just been lawsuits. Facebook has also been the subject of various cases, the bulk of which pertain to a person's right to privacy.
In the Philippines, for example, a judge ruled that a school had no right to ban a teenager who had posted pictures of herself in a bikini to the social network from her graduation because the school had obtained the images illicitly.
In the United Kingdom, a judge ruled that a man was wrongfully demoted by his employer for speaking against marriage equality on his Facebook, something the man was entitled to do.
Locally, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Davis ruled that a Minnesota school had violated a teenager's First and Fourth Amendment rights when school officials forced her to hand over the passwords to her Facebook account.
4) Richard Metzger
No other individual has done more to sully Facebook's name, for better or worse, over Promoted Posts than Richard Metzger.
Metzger became the face of the anti-Promoted Posts crusade after penning a lengthy post on the blog Dangerous Minds accusing Facebook of holding his audience reach ransom for the sake of making a quick buck.
In his Oct. 24 post, Metzger detailed how the Facebook page for Dangerous Minds had been steadily growing in the number of likes. Despite the new followers, the page was reaching less and less of them. Metzger blamed Promoted Posts.
“It’s perhaps the most understated stick-up line in history,” he wrote, “worthy of a James Bond villain calmly demanding that a $365 million dollar [sic] ransom gets collected from all the Mom & Pop businesses who use Facebook.”
The company responded by stating the changes were a result of EdgeRank, their ever-evolving proprietary algorithm that aims to bring only the best to a user's newsfeed.
Despite these claims to the contrary, anti-Promoted Posts sentiment has spread. In addition to the aforementioned Metzger and Takei, Dallas Mavericks owner and entrepreneur Mark Cuban has also criticized Facebook over the maligned feature.
Here's something that the Daily Dot failed to cover in the past year.
The biggest name on Facebook is not Eminem or soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. It's Jesus.
Many brand pages' reach took a hit when Facebook changed modified their EdgeRank algorithm. This assertion was recently supported by a study released in November by GroupM, a media investment management group. According to the report, the average page went from reaching roughly 15 percent of its audience to slightly under 10 percent after EdgeRank was changed.
Bucking that trend were various religion-oriented pages like Jesus Daily and GodVine. The two pages boast audiences of 14,904,448 and 5,362,774, respectively. They may not have the most likes, but they're doing more with what they have than everyone else. As of this writing, for example, the pages have 5,362,774 and 3,185,519 people "talking about this," respectively.
"Talking about this" is a Facebook metric that factors in things like comments and shares on a given post, direct mentions, and the number of people who have liked the page. It's a pretty good number to gauge interest on the page.
The aforementioned figures are incredibly high, given the audiences of those two groups. To put things in perspective, Rihanna is the most-liked celebrity on Facebook, with 64.5 million likes. Despite the big audience, only 639,257 are currently "talking about this," meaning her fans aren't as engaged.
It's difficult to tell when this rise of religious fan pages occurred, but we've certainly missed it. Until now. Religious people, consider this oversight corrected.
6) Shahien Dada
When Shahien Dada expressed her displeasure on Facebook over the city of Mumbai shutting down to commemorate the death of controversial Indian politician Bal Thackeray, the 21-year-old did not expect to get arrested, much less become a watershed symbol for legislative reform.
But that's exactly what happened. Dada was arrested on Nov. 19 for violating Section 66A of India's Information Technology Act, which makes it a crime punishable by jail time to use social media platforms to make offensive statements.
The arrest galvanized opponents of the controversial law, which authorities have used to incarcerate individuals for dubious reasons, including criticizing police for failing to do their jobs. Within day after Dada's arrest, top political figures like former Supreme Court of India Judge Markandey Katju and Kapil Sibal, the country's minister for communications and information technology, called for legal reform.
These calls to actions seemed to work. On Nov. 26, Member of Parliament Bijayant Jay Panda announced via Twitter that he had introduced legislation to amend Section 66A. The provision has also been challenged in Allahabad High Court and the Madras High Court.
Mike Huckabee might not have a million followers on Facebook (he's currently at 889,044 likes), but the former Governor of Arkansas and conservative television show still holds a lot of sway on the social network.
Case in point: Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.
Huckabee organized the aforementioned Facebook event in response to criticism of company CEO Dan Cathy, who had previously made comments against marriage equality.
"I have been incensed at the vitriolic assaults on the Chick Fil-A company because the CEO, Dan Cathy, made comments recently in which he affirmed his view that the Biblical view of marriage should be upheld," wrote Huckabee on the event's page.
"Let's affirm a business that operates on Christian principles and whose executives are willing to take a stand for the Godly values we espouse by simply showing up and eating at Chick Fil-A on Wednesday, August 1."
The conservative call to action worked. Hundreds of thousands of people showed up to Chick-fil-a locations, including top right-wingers like Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum, to show that they too were against marriage equality.
When the breaded-chicken crumbs settled, more than 670,000 people had RSVPed to the event.
Other conservative groups have tried to employ the same strategy since Huckabee's very successful campaign, but to no avail.
8) Party People
If you had a house party in the past year and you made a Facebook event for it, chances are that your soiree made the news.
That at least seemed to be the trend 2012, when multiple parties got out of control because of the social network.
In September, at least a thousand people showed up to the small northern Dutch city of Haren after a 16-year-old resident accidentally forgot to make her birthday party private. The event went viral, with more than 23,000 people invited to the event and close to 2,500 of them RSVPing for it.
It wasn't the real life version of Project X—the 2012 film about a birthday party that turns into a chaotic rager— but it was still pretty wild.
Just as insane was what happened in the United Kingdom a few weeks ago, when a teenager's 15th birthday party resulted in more than 800 people showing up to the party and trashing her house. According to the girl's mother, the anarchic revelers caused more than $50,000 worth of damage, which the insurance company refuses to pay. Ouch.
How did people hear about the party? Facebook, of course.
9) Police Officers
When it comes to Facebook, law enforcement officials were the group of people we most wrote about. It makes sense, then, that they would make this list.
Some of our stories pertained to cops behaving badly, like the 17 New York City cops disciplined for making racist comments, or the police officer who was arrested after a British woman identified him as one of her tormenting trolls.
Others were about how the social network behemoth was impeding them from doing their jobs, like when Australian police asked unsuccessfully the company to take down a page that revealed the locations of unidentified police vehicles, or the woman who was arrested for blowing an undercover officer's identity by posting his picture on Facebook.
We also wrote about the opposite, of cops using Facebook to help them catch criminals. In October, for example, pbolice officers successfully arrested two suspects believed to be behind the murder of a teenage girl by using a Faceook conversation between one of the suspects and the victim.
You, beloved Facebook user, for better or worse, round out our top 10.
Thanks to you, Facebook crossed the one-billion-users threshold in October. No small feat considering that the world's population is close to seven billion.
You also ensured that Facebook stayed atop of the social media platform hierarchy this December by choosing to not vote on a referendum that modified the site's two governing documents. These changes, as we've detailed, abolished your right to vote on future modifications and granted Facebook carte blanche to do whatever it pleases in the future with little to no accountability to you.
All photos via Facebook