Friday, November 14, 2014

#AlexFromTarget And The Dark Side Of Internet Fame

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Some of you may have heard about #AlexFromTarget or not. Some say he's a marketing gimmick, others say he's complete hoax. But he is in fact a real person - his name is Alex Lee, he's 16 years old, and works checkout at Target. Though he did not, in any way, plan to become an online viral sensation, that was exactly what he became on Nov, 2, 2014.

It is only now, almost two weeks after the furore that we can get a comprehensive picture of all that transpired - what makes someone an internet star, how has the fame changed Alex's live, and does it come with a cost?

According to The Daily Dot, Alanna Page was the person who first spotted Alex while passing through his line at checkout and tweeted about it. Brooklyn Reiff, her friend, saw the tweet.

Alanna tweeted about a checkout guy at target being attractive & I soon found myself in his checkout line.. remembering Alanna's tweet, I quickly snapped a pic of ‘Alex from Target’ and tweeted Alanna.
Neither girl expected gisting about a cute boy or sharing his picture online would go viral. So how did it happen?

A teenage British girl reportedly said she randomly came across the photo of Alex on Tumblr and thought he was cute. So she posted the picture on her Twitter account. She has 21,000 followers. Two other twitter users with combined followership of almost 40,000 also shared the photo. As their followers retweeted and shared, the photo blew up with a gazillion memes under the hashtag #alexfromtarget.

The NY Times reports that Alex was working the register that day, and his first inkling of something different in his life was when he started noticing that his checkout line was unusually long with mostly teenage girls laughing and taking photos of him as he checked out their shopping.

His shift manager, Molly, who is a senior in high school, showed him the photo on her phone, and transferred Alex to work in the stockroom for the rest of his shift.

After work, he was finally able to check his phone. From just over 144 followers that morning, Alex now had over 100,000 followers. His first tweet was, “Am I famous now?” This message has since been retweeted more than 42,000 times and favorited by 86,000 users.

He was indeed famous, even going as far as appearing on Ellen, and being courted by all the major news outlets in the US. Alex now has about 730,000 followers on Twitter and more than 2.3 million followers on Instagram.

While a peep at his social media activity makes it look like he's basking in his newfound glory, the fame comes at a cost.

Alex has been called names on Twitter, and fake stories about him and his job circulated. People call him, "damn ugly"  and attack him for his fame. He's also got several death threats privately and publicly.

Alex confessed that these days he can barely go outside for fear of being stopped by strangers.

I’ve been in the house the entire time. I’m kind of scared to go in public.

Life has also changed for the teenager's parents. Though they are happy for their son and the opportunities, they say this hostility has been difficult to watch. His father, Eric Fooks, who is a small-business consultant said;

The biggest concern for myself and my wife is some of the negativity we’re seeing online. Our concern is making sure he’s safe.

Mr. Fooks adds that unkonwn people have leaked the family’s personal information online, including Social Security numbers, bank accounts and phone records. Worried for Alex and his five siblings, his parents have had to contact the local police, and they spoke with Alex's school principal, as well as Target managers, on safety plans in case of an emergency.

Sometimes, I've wished that RML was bigger, and I dream and draw up plans of making it bigger. But then I have to remind myself that fame is not all roses and gold. I hope it works out for Alex.

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