16-year-old Alex Lee was catapulted into internet fame when a photo of him went viral on Twitter.
Lee and his family faced death threats and harassment, including their Social Security numbers being leaked.
A little over 8 years later, Lee appears to have zero social media presence.
Lee was catapulted into online fame during a Sunday morning shift at the big box store.
When he was 16 years old, Alex Lee was living in Frisco, Texas, and picking up shifts at an Eldorado Parkway SuperTarget. He'd been an employee for three months when a customer took a photo of him at work and posted it online in late October 2014. A British teen saw the shot a week later and posted it to her (now defunct) Twitter account with the caption "YOOOOOOOOOOO."
The rest is internet history. The tweet went explosively viral, turned into a meme, and Lee was catapulted into online fame. As the photo ping-ponged around the internet, Lee worked a Sunday shift at the big-box retailer, according to The New York Times. He noticed his checkout line was growing unusually long, and his manager, Molly, a senior in high school, showed him the photo on her phone. As the attention intensified, Molly moved him to the stockroom for the remainder of his shift. When he clocked in on November 2, 2014, Lee had 144 Twitter followers. When his mom picked him up from work that evening, he had 100,000. The teen told J-14 that his phone number had been leaked and his phone, overwhelmed with notifications, was frozen.
Within a few hours, online users had turned Lee into a global celebrity. "The Internet owns him. He doesn't own his fans … and he certainly isn't the agent of his own enormous, newfound fame," The Washington Post's Caitlin Dewey put it.
He appeared on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and other news stations.
One week later, Lee was sitting in a pristine white chair for an appearance on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show."
Later, he'd tell J-14 the "Ellen" call was what made him realize the viral fame "was actually going to change everything."
News coverage at the time described Lee's response as a mix of enjoyment, fear, and surprise.
Lee and his loved ones faced online harassment.
As is often the case, the online fanfare was accompanied by cyber-bullying of the "shy and exceedingly polite" teen — as The New York Times' Nick Bilton described him in 2014 — as well as his girlfriend and family.
Lee received death threats on social media, and his father, Eric Fooks, told the outlet that people had leaked the family's personal information, including their Social Security numbers, bank accounts, and phone records. The family contacted local police and created "security plans in case of an emergency" with his school's principal and Target managers.
Users found Lee's then-girlfriend, Lindsey Diers, who he told the NYT he'd met in chemistry class and began dating two weeks before the picture went viral, and harassed her as well. According to The Washington Post's reporting at the time, tweets like "Alex from Target has a girlfriend, damn, we must execute her," and "I will find you, and I will kill you," were posted.
Eventually, Lee reportedly left his high school and became homeschooled.
A marketing firm, Breakr, said it was responsible for engineering Lee's viral moment, but everyone involved denied knowing the company (which had about 1,200 Twitter followers at the time) existed, and BuzzFeed reported on a conspicuous lack of proof.
Two weeks after the tweet circulated, Lee told USA Today that "the whole #AlexFromTarget thing is getting kind of old." He was reportedly trying to use his platform to direct donations to "JustLove International," a non-profit for children that his mother and psychologist Marci Fooks helped found. The organization no longer appears to be operational.
"I've been in the house the entire time," Lee told the NYT after his "Ellen" appearance. "I'm kind of scared to go in public."
The opportunities afforded to Lee eventually led him to leave school. "I had to leave high school after going on the 'Ellen Show,'" he reportedly told J-14, according to a 2021 Medium post by writer Will Leitch. "In Texas, you can only miss ten days of school before you're truant and you have to go to court. So, I had to go to court because I was missing so much school from flying out to Los Angeles and all that stuff."
"Once I started homeschooling, then I actually got the freedom to kind of go wherever, so that after that, everything just started getting crazy."
The teen went on tour and dropped in and out of social media.
In 2015, Lee reportedly told viewers he was pursuing a career in music and uploaded a spoof music video. That year, he went on tour with DigiTour, a traveling event production company for social media stars.
Later, he told viewers of his Youtube Channel that he was studying to become an EMT, according to a clip shared in a 2018 Youtube video from the celebrity gossip site Nicki Swift.
In footage Nicki Swift identified as from a 2017 YouTube video, Lee can be heard telling viewers some "sketchy shit" was going on with his social media accounts, and he "ended the management thing," seemingly referring to his management team at the time. The outlet reported issues with his second management team leading to a social media hiatus for the teen and, eventually, a new Youtube account in 2017.
"The beginning was wonderful. The first few months was amazing," he told the J-14. "I was going on tour. I made a ton of friends. I was going on the news all the time. It was just really fun. Then, all the business aspects kind of ruined it for me."
Eventually, Lee deleted his YouTube account.
Now, he has zero social media presence.
In March 2018, Lee reportedly dipped another toe into social media with a since-deleted fitness Instagram account.
"I was always back and forth on social media ever since this thing started. I never really could find my niche, like what I really wanted to do with it," he told J-14 in January 2018. "So, now I'm just going to be who I really am, and I'm gonna give them more insight into my real life and stuff. I hope they enjoy it."
As of now, Lee seems to have no social media presence. A TikTok duet posted on April 14 appears to show Lee accompanied by a voiceover that reads "not a fake account it's me Alex from Target, my dudes," but the TikTok account has since been deleted.
@mommymiahh #duet with @alex_charlee BDHDBDBTJDBRB part of me thinks only he came back because of MY tik tok🙈 #alexfromtarget #greenscreen #alex #PassTheBIC ♬ Nonstop - Drake
Lee did not respond to Insider's request for comment.
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