Alex Christopher LaBeouf never asked to be famous and endure the insults, along with the compliments, that come with instant popularity that can happen in the digital age.
A recent BuzzFeed article describes how the 16-year-old boy working at Target became an Internet sensation after a photo of him bagging groceries made its way to Twitter, where thousands of retweets gushed over his good looks.
The picture gained the hashtag #AlexFromTarget, and found its way into several memes as well as YouTube videos.
"Social media analytics site Topsy reported the number of mentions for Alex was nearing 1 million in just one day," The New York Daily News reports. "Alex's own employer, Target, (got) into the act, tweeting "We heart Alex, too! #alexfromtarget" with a picture of a Target name tag with "Alex" written on it."
Fans of Alex eventually found his official Twitter account and his followers jumped from 144 to over 500,000 in just a few days, the teen explained on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show."
But along with the positive publicity, Alex has also endured a considerable amount of online harassment.
"There’s something distinctly voyeuristic, if not exploitative, about his celebrity. He is powerless as hundreds of thousands pass judgment on his appearance," Terrence McCoy wrote in The Washington Post.
The insults, like the compliments, focused on his appearance.
As Caitlin Dewey in another article in The Washington Post noted, "He never asked for fans or followers; he’s just borne along on the backs of the hordes — his unconsenting (and legitimately creepy!) image passed around like just another over-sexualized 1D (one direction) fandom meme."
Internet users also located the Twitter account for Alex's girlfriend and filled her feed with threats and cruel messages, The International Business Times reports.
One should be reminded that both Alex and his girlfriend, who are receiving harassment in the form of sexualization as well as threats, are both teenagers.
"Why are we so nasty to each other online? Whether on Facebook, Twitter, message boards or websites, we say things to each other that we would never say face to face. Shouldn't we know better by now?" Elizabeth Bernstein asks in The Wall Street Journal. “ ‘We're less inhibited online because we don't have to see the reaction of the person we're addressing,' says Sherry Turkle, psychologist and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor of the social studies of science and technology. 'Because it's harder to see and focus on what we have in common, we tend to dehumanize each other,' she says."
A recent article in Deseret News National on the prevalence of online harassment articulated ways such harassment could be curbed.
"Online parenting advocate Sue Scheff says that ingraining a level of empathy in children from infancy is the best way to fight online harassment long-term. 'That empathy is going to bleed into their online personality,' Scheff said. 'If a child is taught kindness offline, they’re not going to want to become a troll online.’ ”
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