The 25 Most Influential People on the Internet

18 minute read

For our third annual roundup of the most influential people on the Internet, TIME sized up contenders by looking at their global impact on social media and their overall ability to drive news. Here’s who made this year’s unranked list:

Chrissy Teigen

Wobbly Wavy Lines Seamless Pattern Green and White
Dimitrios Kambouris—Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Kenneth Bachor for TIME

Some of the most common words returned in Google searches of Teigen’s name are “real,” “relatable” and “all of us” — not exactly what you’d expect for a supermodel, bestselling cookbook author and TV host who’s married to a Grammy-winning musician. That’s a testament to how well the 31-year-old has bridged the celebrity-civilian gap by using her vast social media platform — nearly 20 million followers between Twitter and Instagram — to share unfiltered missives about everything from plastic surgery to the unbearable duration of the Oscars. And following the birth of her daughter Luna in 2016, she has been particularly candid about motherhood, sharing her struggles with postpartum depression and shutting down a never-ending stream of mommy shamers. —Eliza Berman

Matt Drudge

Jamie McCarthy—Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Kenneth Bachor for TIME

For nearly two decades, Drudge and his scrappy, sensationalist website, The Drudge Report, have wielded outsize influence on the political news cycle. This past year was no exception. Not only is the site drawing more readers than ever — it’s got well over a billion monthly page views — but one of them is sitting in the Oval Office. In early June, shortly after a van struck pedestrians on London Bridge, President Trump retweeted a Drudge Report missive alleging the van had “mow[ed] down 20 people” and there were “fears of [a] new terror attack,” apparently confirming speculation before British authorities had a chance to weigh in. Meanwhile, Drudge, who first made his name in the Clinton Administration, still has the ear of grassroots conservatives; his links are a major source for traffic at many right-leaning news outlets (and some mainstream ones, too). —Ryan Teague Beckwith

J.K. Rowling

Karwai Tang—Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Kenneth Bachor for TIME

Most people probably follow Rowling on Twitter for the new tidbits she drops about her massively successful Harry Potter franchise. But more recently, she has emerged as a fierce critic of global populism, smacking down figures like U.S. President Donald Trump and former U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage like only a best-selling author can. Perhaps the best demonstration of her power came earlier this month, when Trump suggested, via Twitter, that the mayor of London was wrong for telling citizens to stay calm after the June 3 terror attack. Rowing’s direct response — “It’s called ‘leadership’, Donald. The terrorists were dead 8 minutes after police got the call. If we need an alarmist blowhard, we’ll call.” — received more than twice as many likes and retweets as Trump’s original message. —Megan McCluskey

Carter Wilkerson

@carterjwm—Twitter; Photo Illustration by Kenneth Bachor for TIME

A simple eight-word request — HELP ME PLEASE. A MAN NEEDS HIS NUGGS — earned Wilkerson a place in internet history. In April, the 16-year-old Nevada teen tweeted this message along with a screenshot of him asking Wendy’s how many retweets it would take to earn a year’s supply of free chicken nuggets. He never reached the 18 million mark set by the fast food chain, but after a few weeks, he handily broke the record for most retweets ever, garnering nearly 3.7 million and dethroning Oscars selfie queen Ellen DeGeneres. Don’t worry, he got the nuggets. —Megan McCluskey

Yao Chen

VCG/VCG/Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Kenneth Bachor for TIME

It takes gumption to speak freely in China, especially when you have a lot to lose. That hasn’t stopped the 37-year-old actress, who with 79 million followers is the most popular person on Weibo. She has long been outspoken on the Chinese social media platform, most recently to shine a spotlight on the global refugee crisis. Shortly thereafter, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees re-appointed her as the agency’s Goodwill Ambassador, crediting her with bringing refugee issues “into the consciousness of millions of Chinese people.” —Nash Jenkins

Brian Reed

Andrew Lipovsky—Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Kenneth Bachor for TIME

When the This American Life producer dropped S-Town in March, it was essentially billed as the next Serial — a twisty tale that would have listeners guessing and theorizing for weeks on end. And while it did kick off with a murder mystery, it quickly transformed into something far more fascinating: an in-depth exploration of one man’s life — and death — in Woodstock, Ala. (the titular “Shit Town,” or S-Town). Breaking from traditional podcast style, host Reed and the S-Town producers dropped all seven episodes at once, ready to be binged. The risk paid off: In its first week, listeners downloaded S-Town 16 million times. (It took Serial six weeks to reach that status.) S-Town remains one of the world’s most-downloaded podcasts, nearly four months after its debut. But as the series grew more popular, some accused it of being exploitative and insensitive, especially in exposing so many secrets about a subject who was not alive to defend himself. —Eliana Dockterman

Correction: The original version of this story misstated where Brian Reed works. He is a producer for This American Life, not NPR.


Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Kenneth Bachor for TIME

Overtaking Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez to spend 27 consecutive weeks atop Billboard’s “Social 50” chart, which tracks popularity across different platforms, would be an impressive feat for any artist. It’s especially so for BTS, a Korean boy band — the full name, Bangtan Sonyeondan, loosely translates to “bulletproof boy scouts” in English — whose seven members have managed to cultivate a virtual fanbase that could give the Beyhive a run for its money. In 2016, the so-called BTS Army propelled Wings to No. 26 on the Billboard 200 — the highest-ever debut for a K-pop album — and earlier this year, they helped BTS win Top Social Artist at the Billboard Music Awards. During their acceptance speech, band member Rap Monster (real name: Kim Nam-joon) gave credit where credit was due: “This award belongs to [everybody] around the world who shines the love and light on us,” he said. —Raisa Bruner

Alexei Navalny

Andrey Borodulin—AFP/Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Kenneth Bachor for TIME

In a nation where practically all mass media are state-controlled, the Russian opposition activist has used YouTube to break through the Kremlin’s information blockade. His channel has more than a million subscribers, and the videos he posts have inspired a wave of anti-government protests this year by showing evidence of government corruption. Unsurprisingly, he has run afoul of Russian authorities on numerous occasions, and he was jailed during Moscow’s most recent round of protests. Nonetheless, he plans to run against Vladimir Putin in Russia’s 2018 presidential election. Since he is barred from appearing on state TV, his campaign will have to rely on social networks to get Navalny’s message across. —Simon Shuster

Donald Trump

Thanksgiving Chevron pattern - yellow and white
Olivier Douliery—Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Kenneth Bachor for TIME

The president once claimed that people consider him “the Hemingway of Twitter.” But he may be more like the platform’s O. Henry: undone with an ironic twist. The itchy Twitter finger that propelled him to the White House now appears to be hurting his presidency. An unsubstantiated accusation that he was wiretapped ended up irritating British intelligence. A reference to possible tapes of his conversations with fired FBI Director James Comey raised eyebrows. (Trump later said he didn’t record conversations with Comey.) Old tweets have been scrutinized by skeptical judges and recirculated online when Trump has contradicted a past position. But in spite of — or perhaps because of — the seemingly endless drama, Trump is now the most-followed world leader on Twitter, giving him a tool that’s highly effective at getting his message out on his own terms. —Ryan Teague Beckwith

Matt Furie

Photo Illustration by Kenneth Bachor for TIME

The 37-year-old artist never intended to create the Internet’s most notorious meme. But when far-right extremists chose Pepe the Frog — the “blissfully stoned” character Furie had drawn for a 2005 web comic — to be their mascot, there wasn’t much Furie could do. As the 2016 presidential campaign heated up, members of the alt-right started editing Pepe’s likeness and using it to spread racist, sexist and anti-Semitic messages, so much so that the Anti-Defamation League declared Pepe a “hate symbol.” Furie has repeatedly condemned the memes, and in May he killed Pepe off in an attempt to reclaim his creation. But those efforts have been mostly futile, showing just how quickly and powerfully the Internet can seize — and transform — even a seemingly benign piece of content. —Lisa Eadicicco


Steven Pruitt (a.k.a. Ser Amantio di Nicolao)

Wikipedia; Photo Illustration by Kenneth Bachor for TIME

In an era defined by fake news, the 33-year-old Virginian (real name: Steven Pruitt) has emerged as one of the internet’s most prolific guardians of fact. By day, he’s a contractor for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. But by night — or more realistically, whenever he has free time — Pruitt voluntarily works as an editor for Wikipedia, the increasingly popular online encyclopedia. Since 2006, he has made roughly 2 million Wikipedia edits, more than any other English-language editor. Some of those changes involve adding content — Pruitt has personally written new articles on 212 influential women to help correct Wikipedia’s gender imbalance — but many also strengthen the backbone of the platform itself, creating better ways to organize and format existing entries. “Wikipedia is such an incredible tool because it makes so much information accessible to so many people at once,” he tells TIME. “But what good is it if it’s hard to navigate?” —Melissa Chan

Bana Alabed

Adem Altan—AFP/Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Kenneth Bachor for TIME

When a 7-year-old girl tweets that she’s scared of dying in a bomb strike, the world takes notice. So it was with Alabed, whose everyday dispatches from rebel-held East Aleppo (“bombs falling now like rain,” “my brothers are very scared and I don’t want that”) raised awareness about the horrors of Syria’s Civil War at a time when few journalists could even access the region. Although Syrian President Bashar al-Assad initially dismissed the account — which is run by Bana’s mom, Fatemah — as anti-government “propaganda,” it nonetheless drew widespread coverage, turning Alabed into a posterchild for Syria’s thousands of struggling children. Her story has a happier ending than most: In December 2016, she and her family were evacuated to Turkey, where they’re now living as refugees. She recently signed a book deal with Simon & Schuster. —Tara John

Gigi Gorgeous

Gabriel Olsen—Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Kenneth Bachor for TIME

The Canadian model has spent almost a decade chronicling every aspect of her life on YouTube, including her transition from male to female. Now she’s one of the world’s most visible trans women, appearing on TV and in magazines, serving as an ambassador for Revlon, and starring in her own documentary, This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous, which premiered at Sundance — and then on YouTube — earlier this year. Still, Gorgeous (more formally known as Gigi Lazzarato) remains committed to being wildly open, especially with her more than 5 million followers across YouTube, Twitter and Instagram. “It is in my power now,” she tells TIME, “to inspire other trans girls and boys around the world.” —Katy Steinmetz

Jonathan Sun

Wobbly Wavy Lines Seamless Pattern Green and White
Christopher Sun; Photo Illustration by Kenneth Bachor for TIME

In recent months, interest has surged in so-called wholesome memes that promote earnest messages of empowerment. And the 27-year-old Sun — better known as “jomny sun” to his 475,000 Twitter followers — is one of the movement’s biggest advocates; last year, he made headlines for launching a campaign to turn the “Sad Kermit” meme into a symbol of hope. One goal, Sun says, is to help his readers cope with negative feelings like depression and anxiety. “Everybody feels those feelings,” he tells TIME, adding that creating and consuming wholesome memes is about “acknowledging and accepting that instead of beating yourself up over it.” Sun’s work is advancing well beyond Twitter, though: he’s releasing a book loosely based on his online persona. —Lisa Eadicicco

Katy Perry

Jason LaVeris—Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Kenneth Bachor for TIME

At a time when so many celebrities use social media to burnish their reputations with airbrushed photos and pithy captions, Perry is blazing a trail by ditching her script — at least for a weekend. During her recent 96-hour livestream on YouTube, Perry underwent therapy, practiced transcendental meditation and yoga and even slept while cameras were rolling. It may have been promotional (for Perry’s new album, Witness), but it was the closest any major entertainer has come to giving fans the kind of “real” intimacy that social media purports to provide. Although the livestream received its fair share of mockery, it didn’t seem to hurt Perry’s social impact: She just became the first person to pass 100 million followers on Twitter. —Daniel D’Addario

Kim Kardashian

kim kardashian
Gotham/GC Images/Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Kenneth Bachor for TIME

This time last year, Kardashian was arguably the most famous over-sharer on social media — using various platforms to give fans an intimate look at her luxe life. (She also made headlines for using Snapchat to release a series of videos supposedly proving that Taylor Swift had lied about an interaction with Kanye West.) That all changed in October, when the reality star was robbed at gunpoint in Paris, and news broke that her attackers had planned the heist, in part, by searching her social-media feeds for details. Since then, Kardashian has revamped her online presence, emphasizing family photos over flashy baubles. But even as she preaches a more restrained approach to social media (“when I’m in my house, I’m hardly on my phone”), she remains one of its most sought-after scions, commanding more than 100 million followers on Instagram alone.

Branden Miller (a.k.a. Joanne the Scammer)

Thanksgiving Chevron pattern - yellow and white
Liliane Lathan—Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Kenneth Bachor for TIME

As his drama-loving alter ego Joanne the Scammer, Miller has amassed a following of nearly 3 million people across Twitter and Instagram. But that understates his impact, both in popularizing the concept of “scamming” (trying to take any advantage you can get in a bum economy) and in building a bona-fide brand that now comprises an emoji app, a documentary, a forthcoming TV series and alliances with celebrities such as Nick Jonas and Ariana Grande. Along the way, Miller has caused a fair share of controversy. But in the words of Joanne herself, “A day without a scam is a day wasted.” —Daniel D’Addario

Ezra Levin, Leah Greenberg, Angel Padilla, Sarah Dohl and Matt Traldi (founders of The Indivisible Guide)

Indivisible Guide; Photo Illustration by Kenneth Bachor for TIME

How can you start a political revolution without money or power? The answer, in this case at least, was deceptively simple: a Google doc. Shortly after the election, these Democrats — four of them former Congressional staffers — pooled their political knowledge and insight they had gleaned from their time on the Hill into what would become the Indivisible Guide, a how-to manual for effecting political change from the ground up. (Tips include focusing on your own representative vs. one in another state, trying to get local news coverage, and being persistent but respectful.) The guide immediately became a blueprint for the progressive resistance to Trump. To date, it has been downloaded almost 4 million times, and inspired the launch of more than 5,600 “Indivisible groups,” which were critical in blocking the first iteration of health care reform from passing in the House. —Charlotte Alter


Thanksgiving Chevron pattern - yellow and white
Jerritt Clark—Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Kenneth Bachor for TIME

The 29-year-old singer approaches social media with the same aplomb and fearlessness that has become her trademark across music, fashion and culture. In the past year alone, she has made headlines for Snapchatting herself feeding birds on the streets of New York while clad in a bright red, heart-shaped jacket, hitting back at body shamers with a Gucci Mane meme and personally jumping into her own Instagram comments to shout out fans and shut down haters (a phenomenon known as RIHplies). How fitting, then, that she’s set to star in a movie that is wholly inspired by a meme of herself. —Cady Lang

Chance the Rapper

Alexander Tamargo—Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Kenneth Bachor for TIME

Chance the Rapper didn’t need a record deal to become a hip-hop superstar. That’s thanks largely to his mastery of the internet, both as a distribution method (all three of his mixtapes have been streaming-only) and as a tool to build meaningful relationships with his many young fans. The Chicago native (born Chancelor Johnathan Bennett) released his latest effort, Coloring Book, for free via Apple Music; it went on to become the first streaming-only album to chart on the Billboard 200 and, eventually, to win a Grammy. —Raisa Bruner

Ariel Martin (a.k.a. Baby Ariel)

Seamless abstract vector pattern of rain
Jeff Kravitz—Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Kenneth Bachor for TIME

If you’re over the age of 21, you probably haven’t heard of Martin. But to the 200 million young “musers” who log onto, an app that lets users record and share 15-second lip-syncing videos, she’s a superstar. “Baby Ariel,” as Martin styles herself, has some 30 million followers online, including 20 million on, more than any other individual user. But the 16-year-old Florida native is now expanding beyond the app: last year she headlined the blockbuster Digitour, won a Teen Choice Award, launched her own emoji line and parlayed her digital fame into collaborations with brands like Nordstrom, Burger King and Sour Patch Kids. Next up? Martin just revealed that she’s working on original music. —Raisa Bruner

Cassey Ho

cassey ho
Joe Scarnici—Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Kenneth Bachor for TIME

Ho didn’t know anything about fitness until she saw an infomercial for a pilates DVD as a teenager. Now the 30-year-old Vietnamese-Chinese vlogger from Los Angeles runs Blogilates, a multi-million dollar fitness empire — which now includes DVDs, books and apparel — that she started on YouTube, where she remains a force, racking up more than 121 million views in 2016 alone. But her millions of fans follow her for more than just workout tips: Ho has made headlines for opening up about her struggles with an eating disorder and the absurd pressures to have a perfect body. In 2017, she plans to continue to spread those messages of body positivity via her mobile fitness app, PIIT28 and her “Sheroic” podcast. “It’s all about empowering my fans to create their own destiny,” Ho tells TIME. —Ashley Hoffman

Huda Kattan

huda kattan
David M. Benett—Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Kenneth Bachor for TIME

Earlier this year, the New York Times posed a simple question: “Is Huda Kattan the most influential beauty blogger in the world?” The answer just might be yes. Unlike most of her contemporaries, the Iraqi-American makeup mogul eschews YouTube in favor of Instagram, where she regularly treats her 20 million followers to high-glamour tutorials, makeup memes and viral beauty hacks. And that massive online footprint helps her sell make-up in real life, as well: her Huda Beauty line, comprising false lashes, lip gloss, liquid lipsticks and more, is now available everywhere from vending machines in Dubai to Sephora locations across the world. —Ashley Hoffman

Mark Fischbach (a.k.a. Markiplier)

Barry King—Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Kenneth Bachor for TIME

With more than 17 million subscribers and over 7 billion views on his gaming commentary videos, Fischbach has set himself apart in a multi-million dollar industry filled with successful personalities. The Hawaii-born gamer, known online as Markiplier, has earned millions adding outlandish reactions and dramatic screams to his video game experiences. Even his online persona has an alter ego — the pink mustache-clad Warfstache who also adds lively narration to video games. Ranking among other notable YouTube giants like PewDiePie and JackSepticEye, the 27-year-old Fischbach joined the network Revelmode under Disney’s Maker Studios in 2016. He frequently plays for charity events, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for places like Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Forbes recently named him its top gaming influencer in the world. —Mahita Gajanan

Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin (founders of The Skimm)

Seamless abstract vector pattern of rain
Desiree Navarro—Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Kenneth Bachor for TIME

Depending on whom you ask, Zakin and Weisberg’s daily news digest is either a pioneering model for the future of news or a harbinger of the apocalypse. But the fact that it has generated so much debate is a sign that its profile is rising. Zakin and Weisberg launched The Skimm in 2012 as a daily email newsletter designed to summarize the news in a way that would inform and entertain its core audience of millennial women — often by using an irreverent, conversational tone that has been accused of being overly flip. (A recent item involving ISIS, for example, was headlined “Mo-Sul, Mo Problems.”) Nonetheless, the Skimm strategy appears to be working: The email newsletter, which Weisberg and Zakin still co-edit, has more than 5 million subscribers and high open rates, and its celebrity fans include Oprah, Lena Dunham and Trevor Noah. —Charlotte Alter

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at