How My Parody Parody Twitter Account Got Hacked by ISIS

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It’s the one sentence no expectant parent wants to hear: “Your Twitter parody account has been hacked by the notorious terror organization known as ISIS.”

For the record, I’m not an expectant parent. But I did hear that sentence, or one very close to it, and it really stressed me out, so if I were an expectant parent, I imagine I would have been even more stressed out, what with the pregnancy and the hormones and everything.

I suppose that, in a way, though, I am a parent. My child? The parody parody Twitter account @KattWillFerrell. And terrifying prenatal exam results? The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

In order to understand @KattWillFerrell, you need to understand how Twitter works. Twitter is filled with accounts mimicking popular comedians like Will Ferrell and Katt Williams, which trade on name-recognition to gain followers. Accounts like “@kattwilliams___” and “@itsWillyFerrell” pump out a steady stream of stale and stolen jokes that tend to sound more like boardwalk T-shirts than like the comedians they’re supposedly parodying. (The word parody is generally used in these accounts’ bios in order to escape Twitter’s policy against impersonations, not to signal their approach to comedy.)

Here’s one classic tweet from “@Will___Ferrell,” “American comedian, impressionist,parody account not affiliated with will ferrell, actor, writer and still a around BADASS!”

Now, you might say: That joke is not only old, it’s not funny. But there’s no arguing with success. Twitter loves its parody accounts, which amass retweets and favs in the thousands and followers in the millions. So the question posed by @KattWillFerrell is: What if you make an account that tries to draft off the success of both Katt Williams and Will Ferrell? What you get is a Twitter humor algorithm combining the charismatic personalities of two different comedians, pulling in all the hottest memes, jokes, and topical tweets, and mixing them together into a delicious, coherent, highly viral laughter stew.

When I created KWF, my only intent was to make people laugh. I quickly discovered that the best way to do this was to tweet the same classic joke over and over again.

The Hope/Jobs/Cash tweet was an instant success, so why not give the people what they wanted? Which, in this case, what the people wanted … was the joke. That’s what they wanted. Trust me.

And so my mini parody-empire grew. There may have been an “I” in “KattWillFerrell,” but there was also a “we” (between the “Will” part and the beginning of the “Ferrell” part). There was a “will” too (between “Katt” and “Ferrell”), and, as we all know, where there’s a will, there’s a way. (Technically there wasn’t a “way” in “KattWillFerrell.”) Fast forward to 2016, and we’ve built a successful team of a dozen content experts telecommuting from diverse tech hubs across the continent to bring people the kind of joy that only they can see.

Until this weekend.

Around 1:15 p.m. on Sunday, my combination Katt Williams/Will Ferrell parody Twitter account was taken over by terrorists, and they were posting unscheduled tweets with no regard whatsoever for my carefully curated list of weekend topics.

The account was suddenly entirely different — filled with low-resolution, unsourced photographs; vague references to events and ideas that the average person wouldn’t understand; a mishmash of unrelated hashtags like #FakeMarriageFacts and #MyDepressionLooksLike. ISIS had taken my combination Katt Williams/Will Ferrell parody Twitter account and turned it into a soulless vehicle for cynical audience gathering.

The KWF team and I watched helplessly as the tweets and retweets rolled on. It was a social-media nightmare, and these ISIS guys were no fools. They’d targeted us for weeks, or, at least, hours. They’d actually changed the password — thus preventing us from accessing it. These guys were pros. This wasn’t going to be easy.

Luckily, we had an ace up our sleeves. That ace? Online security expert Michael “@Dogboner” Hale. The sleeve? The — I guess … the sleeve would be just, like, the list of KWF employees. It’s not important. Dogboner got down to business. It was like something out of a Tom Clancy techno-thriller. We pulled the rug right out from under these ISIS fools, simply by having Twitter send the changed password to the email address which we had used to set up @KattWillFerrell in the first place.

The account that @KattWillFerrell had been retweeting was suspended, and we tweeted a prompt corporate-style apology from @KattWillFerrell to cover up the events that had transpired.

I’ve learned since then that ISIS’s loosely organized hacking squadron has a habit of attacking major online targets, such as an Ithaca, New York. real-estate blog, and an Indian SEO service with “Google” in its name. It was humbling to have been hacked, but heartening to know that @KattWillFerrell represented exactly the kinds of American freedoms that ISIS seeks to destroy.

But the truth is, @KattWillFerrell might have more in common with ISIS than I thought. We’re both horizontally organized. We both have aggressive, forward-thinking visual branding. We both share a love of disruption. Most important: We both understand the power of memes and hashtags to reach a wide audience of influencers and potential customers. ISIS and @KattWillFerrell may stand for different things, but we can agree on one thing: Ten years ago we had Bob Hope, Johnny Cash, and Steve Jobs. Please don’t let Kevin Bacon die.