Two weeks ago 16-year-old Alex Christopher LeBeouf became “Alex from Target,” and since becoming an Internet phenomenon overnight has been subjected to cyberbullying and death threats. Nov. 2 was a normal day for the teenager, who lives in Frisco, Tex. His father dropped him off at Target after church for his regular work shift. Alex turned off his cell phone to save a low battery. When he turned it on later it practically melted with notifications from friends trying to tell him he had become a celebrity.
It all started with a photo posted on Tumblr that was taken by a teenage customer from Texas. A British girl with the Twitter handle @auscalum discovered it and Tweeted Alex from Target because she thought he was cute. Her Twitter post was favorited and retweeted thousands of times. Alex went from 144 Twitter followers to over 500,000 in 24 hours, and now tops 730,000. More than 2.3 million follow him on Instagram. Google Trends reports that “Alex from Target” is searched on Google more often than Justin Bieber or Nash Grier.
Fame has a dark side though. The teenager says that he is afraid to go out in public for fear of being mobbed. When he walked into school last Friday, his first day back since his launch to fame, students kept stopping him in the hallway to snap selfies. That afternoon he was chased out of Whataburger by screaming, cellphone-toting teenage girls.
However, the worst may be the cyberbullying: hateful comments denigrating how Alex from Target looks, reporting he has been fired, calling him vulgar names, and even death threats, including one saying “I’ll find you and I will kill you.” His family’s social security numbers, phone records, bank accounts and other personal information have been leaked on-line. Alex’s parents have contacted the police over fear for the family’s safety. Security plans have been set up at school and at Target in case of an emergency.
Alex says he is no stranger to being bullied, as he learned to disregard “the hate” he experienced in elementary school, but says it is getting difficult to ignore. The LeBeouf family is consulting with John Shahidi, founder of the selfie-sharing, teenage-centric app “Shots” to help him manage the online deluge. Shahidi works with Justin Bieber, and contacted the family after he noticed that Alex followed his company on Twitter. He says the family only wants to do something positive with the opportunity.
It is disruptive though. Alex from Target now works in the stock room because his presence at the checkout counter created chaos. That started to occur the first day everything else happened. He had no idea why his checkout line seemed to be unusually long on Nov. 2 until Molly, his teenage Target manager, showed him the photo that had gone viral. Young girls were appearing out of nowhere, snapping photos of Alex as he bagged their purchases. It got so disruptive that Molly finally moved Alex into the stock room to finish his shift.
By the time Alex from Target ended his shift at the store and hopped into his mom’s car for a ride home he had over 100,000 Twitter followers. The fame is out of character for Alex, who is shy and polite. He has been approached by news outlets from around the world, turning down interview requests from E!, Good Morning America and dozens of talk shows. He has also been offered advertising deals, and has been approached by television, movie and modeling agents. His only public appearance thus far has been on Ellen.
Although the thousands of cyberbullying posts and death threats on social media have the family of the now-famous Alex from Target concerned for his safety, Alex himself is trying to keep doing what he has always done. That means going to school and to work, although he is now in the Target stock room instead of on the front line. Not a lot of exciting news to tell millions of followers that are waiting impatiently for his next Tweet.
By Beth A. Balen