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Plot of #AlexFromTarget thickens

By Emanuella Grinberg and Jacque Wilson, CNN
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 6, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Breakr CEO claims credit for making #AlexFromTarget a global trending topic
  • But Alex from Target says he has no connection to the startup
  • Alex is a real employee of a Target store in Texas

(CNN) -- Remember Alex from Target? He took the Internet by storm this week with his good looks and strong work ethic, causing many to swoon and others to curse the power of social media.

Now a tech startup is claiming responsibility for making #alexfromtarget one of the "most amazing social media experiments ever." But it's unclear whether the company really deserves the credit.

The CEO of Breakr, a company that claims to connect "fans with their fandom," said in a LinkedIn post Tuesday that the company harnessed social media's "powerful fangirl demographic" to make Alex Lee, a real, 16-year-old Target employee from Texas, a global trending topic.

Plot of #AlexFromTarget thickens

According to Breakr, the company took the photo of Alex Lee that was posted by a Twitter user named Abbie (@auscalum) and fanned Twitter's flames, "spreading the word amongst our fangirl followers to trend #AlexFromTarget." The company says it then added "fuel to the fire by tweeting about it to our bigger YouTube influencers."

The conversation then spread through people supporting the hashtag "just to trend it" and others raging over the fact that a guy could become "Internet famous" just for his looks, Breakr CEO Dil-Domine Jacobe Leonares said.

People tweeted parody images and created YouTube videos while the media, including CNN, published stories about it.

"It was based on looks," Leonares told CNN late Tuesday. "You put a good looking guy in front of girls, girls are going to go crazy over him."

But not everyone's buying Breakr's trending power. Many have raised an interesting question: Isn't revealing the "man behind the curtain," so to speak, a giant no-no in the social media world?

Adding to the confusion are Alex and Abbie themselves. The "fangirl" Leonares credited with boosting the trend and "Alex from Target" both posted on Twitter that they have no connection to Breakr.

Breakr later clarified that Abbie's not an employee, but simply a Twitter user whose tweet the company claims to have amplified.

That backtracking is just one reason why David Orr, who claims to be one of the largest social media influencers on Twitter, is also skeptical about Breakr's involvement.

"Breakr is already backing down on their claims and is trying to make it clear that they never employed @auscalum," Orr wrote in an e-mail to CNN. "Breakr is extremely vague on their actual relationship with her, alex, or what influence they actually had."

Orr says #AlexFromTarget really started trending when @GirlPosts tweeted it out. The account has nearly 5 million followers, and the photo was retweeted more than 20,000 times, and favorited by 44,000 people.

In the end, what really matters is that #AlexFromTarget has met #EllenfromEllen. "I can apparently bag groceries pretty well," he told the talk show host.

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CNN's Dana Ford contributed to this report.

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