This weekend, the internet made a Target employee famous.
Currently known only as “Alex from Target”, all it took was for one person to tweet a picture of him.
Within 12 hours, Alex was a top trending topic, had been written about on variousnewsoutlets and had amassed a total of 274,000 followers on a Twitter account linked to him. He’s also gained a few fake accounts along the way.
All this happened without anyone really knowing Alex’s full name, age or location. Yet, somehow, he now has a fandom of his own and is now getting the kind of attention saved for members of One Direction. One Twitter account reported to belong to him has tweeted the following:
Target has said they are in contact with Alex’s store and family, but no comment has been made beyond that. They added they were “proud to have a great team” and lent their support to their employee on Twitter.
Accidental internet fame can happen incredibly easily. You could be one tweet away from becoming the next meme. Usually, it happens to people who expect it the least.
Sometimes this fame can be cruel and frightening. But sometimes it can open doors for other opportunities. What can you do in that situation? Here are three examples of people who know exactly how it feels to bear the brunt of accidental internet fame.
Not to be confused with Venetian royalty, doge is a meme which became popular late in 2013. As with all memes, the concept is simple and a bit bonkers. It involves superimposing broken English in colourful Comic Sans over pictures of shiba inus. It doesn’t make much sense, but it doesn’t have to.
Doge managed to baffle mainstream media earlier this year when it was discussed on Radio 4’s flagship Today programme. It’s also morphed into its own cryptocurrency. Welcome to the internet, where anything can happen.
The unintended face of doge is a shiba inu called Kabosu, an adopted rescue dog living in Japan. Her owner Atsuko Sato is a teacher in Japan who writes a hugely popular blog about her pets.
Kabosu, thought to be seven to eight years old, was abandoned along with several other dogs after an unscrupulous breeder went bankrupt. Most of the dogs were put down. Luckily for Kabosu, she was adopted by Sato in November 2008.
The 51-year-old kindergarten teacher often posts pictures of her pets on her blog and its Facebook page, but had no idea of Kabosu’s unexpected internet fame until a fellow blogger alerted her in August 2013. And at first, she was a little afraid.
She said: “I was stunned.
“A photo from one of my blogs had wandered off by itself. It was more like a feeling of: ‘how could something like this have even happened?’ My thoughts weren’t at all that the meme was cute or interesting.
“If I’m being honest, I felt frightened by the net.”
And things got weirder when Kabosu became the face of DogeCoin. The currency hit the headlines after it was used to fundraise money for Jamaican athletes in the Winter Olympics.
But over time, Sato has come to see the meme as something more positive, as the number of Facebook fans from overseas increase and she gets more and more comments from people now inspired to adopt their own rescue dog.
“It’s not just comments saying ‘Kabosu-chan is so cute!’, but also things like ‘I was worried about getting a rescue dog, but since I saw Kabosu-chan’s happy-looking face, I’ve started to want a dog from similar circumstances for myself’.
“The thought I most want to convey on my blog is that ‘rescue dogs can be happy, and can become an important part of your family’. But I’m very happy that it’s not been just in Japan, but even overseas too.”
“All of that is thanks to the meme. I am very grateful.”
As with most popular things on the internet, Sato says she still can’t understand how it all happened.
“I wasn’t sure about posting that picture to the blog because I thought she didn’t look cute in the picture,” she joked.
“But it’s a good thing I did post it after all!”
Thanks to David Pegg and Yuki Shirota for the Japanese translation
Not all internet fame starts out positively.
Aspiring neurosurgeon Balpreet Kaur had no idea her picture had been posted on Reddit until she was told by one of her Facebook friends. The picture, taken without Kaur’s knowledge, was uploaded to the site’s r/funny subreddit under the headline “I’m not sure what to conclude from this.” The user was apparently confused that Kaur is a woman with facial hair.
While many may have been upset at the situation, Kaur took a different approach and responded to the thread to explain her position as a baptised Sikh. In doing so, she turned the entire situation on its head, gaining the respect of redditors and shutting the internet bullies down with her calm and reasoned response.
She wrote: “By transcending societal views of beauty, I believe that I can focus more on my actions. My attitude and thoughts and actions have more value in them than my body because I recognize that this body is just going to become ash in the end, so why fuss about it?
“When I die, no one is going to remember what I looked like, heck, my kids will forget my voice, and slowly, all physical memory will fade away.
“However, my impact and legacy will remain: and, by not focusing on the physical beauty, I have time to cultivate those inner virtues and hopefully, focus my life on creating change and progress for this world in any way I can.”
Many people replied thanking her for teaching them more about her faith and many, including the original poster, apologised for any offensive remarks they wrote about her.
Writing for the Guardian in 2012, she said:
I am well aware of how I am perceived by others: is she a man? A bearded woman? Transgendered? These perceptions find their roots both in simple curiosity and ignorance of the sheer diversity of the human race. I cannot stop people from forming convoluted first impressions based on what I look like, but I can stop them from turning that ignorance into misplaced assumptions or even hatred. This is why, having been alerted to the posting of the photo, I replied in the thread, and engaged with the posters discussing my appearance. What I learned from this experience is that building bridges between people isn’t really that hard: an honest conversation, a simple exchange of meaningful words that make up our lives, can change people’s opinions and change the world for the better – one step at a time.
Fist clenched, a look of pure determination on his face, Success Kid is the boy who can do it all. You may have seen his face posted when someone’s particularly proud of an achievement.
Success Kid’s real name is Sam Griner and the photo is one of many his mother Laney, a photographer, took of her son and posted on her Flickr page. She still remembers the day and the moment she snapped this picture.
“He was so funny, crawling through the sand and then trying to eat fistfuls of it. He would move so quickly then, it was hard to snap shots of him sitting still,” she said.
“I only got that one shot of him, and going through my camera on the drive home, I immediately loved it. I posted it to my Flickr account as soon as I got home, and it was an immediate hit.
“It’s funny because so often people, usually those with little experience with toddlers, assume it’s a posed photo. Good luck trying to get a toddler to pose like that.”
The picture was taken in 2007, but it wasn’t until two years later Griner began noticing it around the internet. Initially, someone had photoshopped a crying child in the background with the title “I hate sandcastles”.
Griner admits: “I didn’t like it at all then. It was at the beginning of the whole meme thing. Sammy was still a baby and I didn’t even know what a meme was at that time, I just didn’t like him being portrayed as a bully.”
Fortunately, a year later, the meme changed and Sam became Success Kid, which Griner says she thought was “just adorable”. This led to Sam starring in commercials for Virgin Media in the UK and in the US in commercials for Vitamin Water.
And does Griner have any tips for parents whose children inadvertently become internet-famous? “Now it’s maybe a little different because memes and internet stardom is more widely known,” she said.
“But still, it’s got to be a surprise for most anyone who finds themselves in this situation. I think the best thing to do is accept it, because once the internet has it, it’s really out of your control, for the most part.
“Most importantly, retain the copyright to your photo, because the internet has now made it marketable. Not that you must now seek to market it, but it’s nice to have some control over how it’s used, and the right to take legal action over unauthorized use for commercial purposes.”
As for Sam, who turned eight this year, Success Kid is something he’s grown up with and is fully-aware of.
“It’s strange to think he’ll never remember a time he wasn’t. He mostly really likes it. We’ve only done a couple of appearances, so it’s mostly just the photo. He likes it and it sort of embarrasses him.
“All of it is pretty awesome. Just that it happened to us. I took a photo of my kid at the beach, like any parent might, and posted for friends and family to see. Who could’ve ever known what would happen next. It’s been full of fun experiences and financially has helped quite a bit. I have no real complaints. I feel pretty fortunate.”
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