You probably don’t know who Daniel Lara is, but chances are you’ve heard of “Damn, Daniel,” a phrase that briefly took over the Internet.
How Lara became famous is pretty simple. The 14-year-old’s friend, 16-year-old Josh Holz, filmed Lara's outfit every day, repeating “Damn, Daniel!” in a dramatic, oddly hilarious accent each time. Holz uploaded the series of short videos to his Snapchat channel, and the rest is viral history. The “why” of how this meme took off is debatable (though, arguably, the most fascinating part of it all), but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it did take off, and Lara and Holz are now Internet celebrities, appearing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show together and walking movie premiere carpets. Lara even received a free lifetime supply of shoes from Vans.
Today, Time released a list of “The 30 Most Influential People on the Internet,” which includes Lara and Holz. A mixed party bag of politicians, artists, and athletes, many of the choices seem like no-brainers (Kanye West, JK Rowling, Donald Trump), and many are deserving (YouTuber Lilly Singh, Swedish gamer PewDiePie, and two #BlackLivesMatter leaders). There are also some glaringly obvious omissions, such as Kylie Jenner, Gigi Gorgeous, and Zoella. With a vague criteria for selecting these influencers based on “their global impact on social media and their overall ability to drive news,” Time’s list is confusing at best, but mostly it’s downright undermining. In giving a slot to Lara and Holz, Time vastly underestimates the power of what teens are doing online.
The product of a teen inside joke gone viral, the “Damn, Daniel” boys are undeniably having a moment. But this isn’t the first time teens have made viral content. In fact, it happens pretty frequently, as depicted by Alex From Target’s fame in 2014, Tumblr’s obsession with Demi “Poot” Lovato, or the Taylor Swift “No It’s Becky” meme, and many of the words you text your friends on a regular basis, like “bae.” Rarely are teens — particularly black teens, as writer Doreen St. Felix points out — given credit for their creativity, however (a fact that’s enormously unfair as they continue to influence Internet culture and, ultimately, culture at large).
So, yes, the “Damn, Daniel” meme speaks to the power of social media and virality. But are the teenagers behind it worthy of being among the most influential on the Internet? I’d argue no. While insanely popular, “Damn Daniel” is exactly the kind of meme out-of-touch individuals believe to be representative of Internet culture. In reality, it’s a fun distraction and its appearance on this list is disappointing as an example of the kind of impact young people are making online.
If Time is going to single out “Damn, Daniel,” why not any of the many teens who make strange, original, creative, and even captivating online content? Why not the teens who are sparking dialogue about body positivity on Tumblr, urging their peers to vote in the primaries on Twitter, and who are writing about #OscarsSoWhite and Islamophobia? Why not the ones launching mental health campaigns and Change.org petitions or the ones who are Snapping from Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton rallies? Why not the ones who are shaping important conversations every day on a multitude of social platforms?
Measuring “influence” is a difficult thing to do. When it comes to the Internet, it’s natural to think in terms of numbers, like views, subscribers, and “likes.” But you can’t measure the amount of teens who have literally learned what intersectional feminism is because of Rowan Blanchard’s and Amandla Stenberg’s tweets. You can’t quantify how many young people have sat in their bedrooms watching a teen’s coming-out video on YouTube, and maybe felt a little less alone that night. It’s impossible to count how many times a day adults refer to something by saying “it’s lit” — all because they once heard the words uttered from a teenager’s mouth.
As an unwavering advocate for young people and social media, I’m totally psyched for Lara and Holz. I wish them all the success and white Vans in the world. But the next time we celebrate influencers on the Internet, let’s give credit and recognition to the impact teens are making online that go beyond ephemeral memes.