Time magazine named The Protester as Person of the Year for 2011 during NBC's TODAY show.
"There was a lot of consensus among our people," managing editor Rick Stengel told the programme. "It felt right."
The weekly magazine annually selects the person, or sometimes group or thing, that its editors think had the single greatest impact over the past 12 months, for better or for worse.
Last year, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg received the honour.
This year, mass action against dictators in the Middle East, anti-drug protests in Mexico, the global Occupy movement and the recent dissent in Russia against the Putin regime compelled the editors to choose The Protester as Person of the Year.
"There's this contagion of protest," Mr Stengel said on TODAY. "These people who risked their lives... I think it is changing the world for the better."
Earlier reports suggested that Apple's deceased co-founder Steve Jobs could have been posthumously elected Time's 2011 Person of the Year.
But in an in-depth analysis, the International Business Times UK pointed out that while Jobs was undoubtedly a tech genius who helped to shape the world, he did not actually do anything of real note this year.
Anticipating the results, IBTimesUK emphasised the role of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself alight in December 2010, igniting the Tunisian revolution and subsequent Arab Spring.
Nominations referring to participants in the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements reflect "a group of people, like Bouazizi, fighting to make the world a better place", the magazine said.
"No one could have known that when a Tunisian fruit vendor set himself on fire in a public square in a town barely on a map, he would spark protests that would bring down dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and rattle regimes in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain," reads Time's introductory article.
The first to be chosen Person of the Year was aviator Charles Lindbergh in 1927. Controversial figures that have also received the title include Adolf Hitler in 1938, Josef Stalin in 1943 and Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. This year's selection reflects a more conceptual choice, like The American Fighting-Man in 1950 and The Middle Americans in 1969.