To hear him tell it, James Shamsi is doing God’s work—or more precisely, the work most news editors have been loath to do since the dawn of the clicks-above-all age of digital journalism.
The 21-year-old British viral marketer is the man behind #KardBlock, a browser extension designed to scour your feed of all things Kim, Kanye, Kris, Khloe, Kendall, and even the occasional Rob and Bruce. In other words, Shamsi seeks to do something that has been all but unimaginable since about the middle of 2007: Make the Internet a Kardashian-free zone.
“Basically, what was happening was that there were Kardashians everywhere, and I wanted to do something about that,” says Shamsi, who has lived in Los Angeles since graduating from college. “But for me, when I follow pages, I am not doing it to get a constant stream of updates on the Kardashians.”
He adds incredulously, “Did you hear that Kim just released a book of her selfies, like yesterday or the day before? Her selfies! I didn’t sign up to these sites to hear about things like that. I am interested in deeper issues. But every platform seems interested in Kardashian news to the point that everything else gets crushed.”
And so, #KardBlock was born. Since it was announced this week, Shamsi claims, upwards of 20,000 people have signed up for the beta version of the web browser extension.
In its finished form, the add-on will not simply wipe the Internet clean of perhaps its most virulent family of distractors, but it also promises to transform what would be empty-calorie infotainment into something a bit more substantive—and potentially much less commercial.
“The concept here is to replace Kardashian links with ones to charitable causes of all kind,” says Shamsi, barely disguising his revolutionary zeal. “But our ultimate goal is even bigger than just that. We are looking to disrupt the entire digital advertising space. We want to replace all advertising with donation links and important news widgets.”
“On top of that, we want to build a customization feature as well, one that will let you get rid of Kardashian news, Bieber news, as well as advertisements.”
That’s right, #KardBlock—this week’s fun, sharable story-of-the-moment—is in its creator’s mind the first proton torpedo fired down the thermal exhaust port of the Internet economy. And yes, Shamsi recognizes the seriousness of that.
“This is not going sit well with a lot of people,” says Shamsi, who admits that his own father is one of those people who never misses an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. “We are living in a time when important news is being squashed down by either adverts telling you that you need Viagra or Kendall Jenner getting into some sort of a scrap. Ultimately, we are hoping to change that by making something that can really help people.”
Shamsi insists that #KardBlock is not and will never be a means to funnel profits away from one immensely lucrative media brand and into his own pockets.
“We are not charging for this,” he says. “We’ve set up a donation page, but we’re sending those donations straight to charity. This is all about making a change that will potentially impact the lives of a lot of people. The reason that we have launched it like this is because obviously this is the way to get the most attention. We are hoping to make a splash with this and kind of change the way the Internet actually works.”
Still, it’s a curious time to be weaponizing Kardashian exhaustion.
In the past several weeks, the clan has brought as much attention to the century-old Armenian genocide as that atrocity has ever received in pop culture. Plus, Bruce Jenner’s deeply-felt and perfectly-pitched revelations about gender identity have done more to further the national conversion about the trans community than just about any other story in recent memory.
The truth is, the Kardashians have never been more substantive. But for Shamsi, these are mere tributaries in what is otherwise an ocean of vacuousness.
“They will raise awareness for 30 seconds, and then one of them will take their top off and that will be news for days and days and days,” he says. “They could be doing great things, but they often choose not to, which to me is an irritant. So we are leveraging the power they could be using to try to do something better, not for profit.”
Not only does he sound a little like a revolutionary, #KardBlock’s creator is starting to feel targeted like one. Shamsi had to cut our interview short after he received a mysterious phone call that felt more than a little bit threatening.
“It was someone saying, ‘I’ve got your IP address— beware,’” he says.
The man who wishes for nothing more than to “get less people to click on stories about Kim’s boobs and more people to click on donation pages” sounds clearly and deeply shaken.
“I am really not sure what I should do right now,” says Shamsi, “but I should probably go.”