Popular satirical Twitter account Nihilist Arby's was hacked this week, but saved by the very chain it has been mocking for the last three years.
Brendan Kelly, who started the handle in 2015, has attracted more than 350,000 followers. The account even scored him a job as a copywriter at The Onion.
Kelly got wind something was wrong with the Nihilist Arby's account when he received an email on Sunday from Twitter saying he had changed the email address associated with his account. However, as the operator of several accounts, he didn’t think much of the notification. "In hindsight, that’s pretty foolish," he said.
Then on Monday night, Kelly received a random DM to his personal Twitter account warning him that something was afoot with @nihilist_arbys. He went to the page, saw a number of strange tweets, and realized he had been hacked.
Kelly tried to log in to change his password, but because hackers switched the email associated with the account, he couldn’t get access. On Wednesday, all of its tweets were deleted and the art was changed.
"Turns out, kids, 13-year-olds were behind it," he said. "This one guy messaged me and was like, ‘Hey, I’ll give you your account back for $130.’ And I said, ‘How about you give it back to me and I don’t screenshot this and show everybody you are trying to extort me?’"
The hackers said they bought access to his account from a message board and were passing it around. But by that time, they didn’t know who had access to it.
"Whoever had it in the end just shut it down; it wasn’t a high-tech operation," said Kelly. "It was just a bunch of kids throwing eggs at a house."
Arby’s stepped in on Wednesday and reached out to Kelly, offering to contact their representative at Twitter to help him.
Josh Martin, senior director of digital and social at Arby’s, explained that social media users were "freaking out" about the account being hacked and thought Arby’s might be the responsible party.
"To have fun with it, we responded to those tweets and said, ‘We did not do this,’" said Martin.
By Wednesday night, Martin’s team saw a tweet from Kelly saying he was still having trouble accessing the account and decided to help.
"Most brands probably wouldn’t step in and help this guy at this point," said Martin. "This is an odd dynamic. But people are having a good time with [the Nihilist Arby's account] so we are happy to use our contacts to help him out."
The chain was an unexpected savior, as Arby’s has had little contact with Kelly since he launched the account. Though in 2015, Arby’s did show up at his office with sandwiches and a therapy puppy after marketing trades revealed he was behind the Nihilist Arby's account.
"That was their way of being like, we get you, we see you, what’s up, we’re down," he said. "But since then, I haven’t heard from them."
Martin said Arby’s sent Kelly the gifts to brighten his day "because he is so dark and mad at the world" and added that the brand loves the account and wants to let him "do his thing."
"We never want to be a brand that comes in and sends a cease and desist and tears it down because it has such a big fan base," said Martin.
Kelly said he respects the way Arby’s has "tolerated" him over the years and the fact that it actually made an effort to reach out to him and Twitter when he was hacked.
"All I can say is, ‘Eat Arby’s; they’re great,’" said Kelly.
Twitter representatives are now on the case, slowly getting the Nihilist Arby's page back to normal. "I am still locked out of the account, but it exists again, and I have most of my followers," said Kelly. "I don’t know where it goes from here."
Kelly said he has no plans to leave Twitter. Asked if the hacking has made him more paranoid about using social media, Kelly replied, "That’s kind of like asking if getting too high has made you paranoid about using drugs. I knew it was a bad idea when I got into it."
However, he said he feels like his work portfolio has been destroyed since his tweets were deleted.
"I am a nihilist; I don’t really care," he said. "But it’s like, man, that’s going to make things more difficult in my life."