The other day, the face of a young man in a red Target employee T-shirt appeared on my Twitter feed over and over again, mostly because people thought he was cute. His hashtag, #alexfromtarget, soon appeared in the national trending topics. The Target employee, Alex, is a regular teenage boy from a regular town, living a regular life.
At least, he used to be.
Alex is now a celebrity of sorts. He is now, for those on Twitter, Alex from Target. This is the kind of instant celebrity that can only happen in the modern world. Remember “hot mug shot guy” from a few months back? Now people are trying to find the next celebrity among other good-looking retail employees. Twitter is, apparently, how the modern world elects its new celebrities.
I’m a little relieved that Alex from Target is a guy because the story would be a lot different if he were a girl.
Consider what happened to his girlfriend and the threats that appeared on Twitter. “Alex from Target has a girlfriend, we must execute her” reads one tweet. “We don’t like you, just so you know,” reads another. “I will find you, and I will kill you,” reads a third.
By some accounts, when people found out the girl’s identity, they started critiquing her looks, trying to get her to break up with Alex and worse. Some of the threats were worrisome, she said, and she ended up asking her parents and authorities for help.
Harassment happens to many women and girls when they go online. This is wrong and needs to stop, and it has to stop at the source. That’s you. Don’t harass others. Stop participating in this.
When people go online, it’s easy to forget that you are talking to another person. Even though his picture shows up on your feed all the time, that doesn’t mean Alex from Target wants the attention or isn’t a real person or that he welcomes the harassment and unwanted attention his girlfriend is receiving. His girlfriend is a real person and by your words, you may be hurting her.
If you are on the other side of this and are dealing with a cyberbully, it’s very important that you do not engage with him or her. Make a copy of the harassing messages, photos or videos, and take them to a trusted friend or family member. Save everything. Go to the police, if you have to, but do not take on an online harasser alone.
Remember that when you engage with others online, you need to treat them with respect. Don’t share information that isn’t yours. Don’t be a bully or a troll. Don’t say things online that you wouldn’t say or would feel scared or embarrassed to say to someone if they were present in the room with you.
We have a chance to stop online harassment, right here, right now, starting with Alex from Target, you and your friends at school.