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Did a Startup Create the 'Alex From Target' Buzz, or Is Its Claim the Real Hoax?

Internet truth is a slippery thing

Target employee Alex Lee discusses his overnight fame with Ellen DeGeneres on Tuesday. Photo via @TheEllenShow on Twitter

Alex is real. Target is real. But that's where the reality ends and the social marketing skepticism begins.

An influencer network called Breakr claimed today that, without any official involvement from Target, it created Monday's #AlexFromTarget global meme. The startup says it asked one of its teen partners in Kensington, U.K., to post the photo of a real Texas Target employee named Alex Lee, then it amplified the post into a surreal bit of Warholian overnight stardom. 

But is that really how it happened? It's hard to tell, honestly. The teen Breakr claims to have seeded the photo with, "Abbie" or @auscalum on Twitter, posted tonight that she wasn't in on a social marketing ploy:

Here's how Breakr described the viral generation in a LinkedIn post claiming credit for the meme:

"We wanted to see how powerful the fangirl demographic was by taking a unknown good-looking kid and Target employee from Texas to overnight viral Internet sensation. Abbie (@auscalum), one of our fangirls from Kensington, U.K. posted this picture of Alex Lee (@acl163) on Twitter. After spreading the word amongst our fangirl followers to trend #AlexFromTarget, we started adding fuel to the fire by tweeting about it to our bigger YouTube influencers."

The rest of the post is mostly just a recap of the extensive media coverage. But its announcement lacks a few key markers of truly being behind it: Namely, any acknowledgement from Alex himself. Or Target, for that matter.

CNET initially noted Breakr's claim, which has since been picked up by sites like GigaOM and Mashable.

Was Breakr really behind the whole affair? Possibly. But one thing is for certain: Nothing is ever as it seems on the Internet, whether it's spontaneous viral stardom or someone taking the credit for it.

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