Lot of fun giving this interview for Gaby’s 100 Interviews project, including my awful faux-Bieber look! :D
“Shaved Bieber! D: I’m going to kill him who invented the program!”
Greg Leuch giving my camera phone his best Justin Bieber hair.
The 25-year-old created a Firefox plug-in called “Shaved Bieber” that censors every mention of the tween pop star.
After e-mailing back and forth a bit, Leuch suggested we meet up on Sunday afternoon at Mission Cafe, a tiny coffee shop on 5th and 2nd. I got a black coffee, he got an Orangina, which the waiter weirdly poured into a way fancier glass than necessary.
Leuch looks the part of a young Internet-savvy guy; he has long, unkempt hair and came over to Mission on his bike. He speaks quickly and knowledgeably about the Internet but is patient when explaining aspects I don’t immediately understand. Most notably when I called “Free Art and Technology Lab,” a group of fifteen hackers from across the globe who work together on projects, a “fancy, secret Internet club.”
“Sure,” he said, smirking. “You can call it that.”
Leuch e-mailed me about ‘100 Interviews,’ which he’d heard about through our mutual friend (and my co-worker), Lindsey Weber. Leuch works for ‘Know Your Meme,’ a competitor with Urlesque.com, AOL’s Internet meme tracking site. Both sites try and follow Internet “inside jokes” and viral videos called “memes.” Though they are rivals, KYM and Urlesque sometimes collaborate, most notably on a balls-out Halloween party called “HallowMeme,” where people dress like memes. Popular guesses Leuch and I made for this year include plenty of Antoine Dodson and double rainbows.
Leuch’s official title is “director of research and development” for RocketBoom, home of “Know Your Meme.” He’s moved from New York to San Francisco and then back to New York in pursuit of web work and based the “Shaved Bieber” add-on on “Ctrl+F’d,” which finds any word inserted and censors it with solid blocks. He got the idea from a co-worker who complained about the Internet’s inundation with Justin Bieber, who trends on Twitter frequently for no apparent reason. That same day, Nick Bilton, lead technology writer for The New York Times Bits blog, tweeted asking if there was a way to delete Bieber from the web. Leuch was inspired.
“It was a weekend project,” he said nonchalantly. “It took a couple of hours.”
From there, “Shaved Bieber” blew up. To understand the frenzy surrounding the app, one must understand the mania surrounding Bieber himself. The 16-year-old Canadian heartthrob has his own Beatles-style hysteria, and his devoted following is Jonestown-loyal.
The first threatening e-mail Leuch received was from a 14-year-old girl in Switzerland.
“She said, ‘I think you’re Hitler,’” Leuch said. The “Beliebers” had gotten his e-mail address from his personal site. From there, Leuch started a Tumblr blog to post the e-mails and his responses. So far, he’s received about 120 e-mails from Bieber fans in countries as far away as Brazil and Russia telling him to “be careful outside” and that the sender knows where he lives.
“There should be an app for beating up the person who invented the shaved bieber program,” tweeted BiebisPresident.
“I want to kick greg leuch in his fucking ugly ass!!!!” proclaimed BiebersCupcake before apologizing for her (him? its?) language.
“3 Million Beliebers are gonna hunt down the dude who made ‘Shaved Bieber,’ promised JustinBSanFran.
Those are just a taste of the displeasure. But Leuch knew the type of crazed fan he was calling out when he made his video. He admits he invited the threats by naming it “Justin Bieber shaving” in the hopes it would garner hits and cause outrage. Calling out Bieber fans has been dubbed “Bieber baiting” by the press. Leuch proudly claims he is the phenomenon’s “grandfather.”
He also suspects the Biebs himself knows about “Shaved Bieber” because his uncle called in after listening to Leuch be interviewed on a radio station in Bieber’s native Toronto.
“That would have been the grand prize,” Leuch said. “I wanted to two things: official comment from Bieber’s camp and a New York Times article. I’ve got neither.”
“I was on Twitter watching 10, 15, 20 results pile up in real time,” he said, describing the surreal morning after “Shaved Bieber” got popular.
There’s an entire Twitter dedicated to hating him and Leuch reads occasional comments about himself on Bieber fan sites because he’s got his name on Google Alerts. He stopped using the location announcing app “FourSquare” when he feared Bieber fans might find him, but he’s since gone back to using it, though he does still worry about being accosted. He laughs at the idea of infiltrating a Bieber concert sometime in the future.
“They’re 14-year-old girls,” he laughed. “They don’t have guns or anything.”
Despite what those girls may think, Leuch has no ill will towards Bieber. He says he’s simply not a fan. When he was a tween, he said he was fanatical about the Spice Girls, particularly because of a crush on Ginger Spice. Leuch understands where the dedication stems from at that age; he’d just prefer to have a choice about seeing it on his computer screen.
“Thanks for being #87!” I tweeted to him after our two-hour coffee date. As we were saying goodbye, I told him I was worried about whether or not I’d done a good job with the first of my 100 interviews. He’d assured me I had.
“i was your #87 and your #1. don’t forget ;),” he replied.
Leuch should know better than anyone: the Internet never forgets.