Step Aside, Ellen DeGeneres: The New Retweet Champion Is a Nugget-Hungry Teenager

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Asking why a tweet goes viral is like asking why your life has brought you to this very moment. Perhaps it’s random, perhaps it’s divine, perhaps it’s unknowable. No mere human, no Kardashian nor YouTube star, can decide. When some 140 characters run aground while seemingly equal tweets are hoisted to the heavens, anyone searching for meaning should expect a long, long voyage.
Anyway, the Nugget Kid will be getting his free chicken nuggets.
On Tuesday morning, Carter Wilkerson, a 16-year-old high school junior in Reno, Nev., became the owner of history’s most-retweeted tweet, knocking Ellen DeGeneres and her famous Oscars selfie off her perch. (For those unfamiliar, a retweet is the act of sharing someone else’s tweet so a new audience can see it.)
When he sent his fateful tweet on April 5, he thought it might be a fun joke for his friends. He had never gotten so many as 10 retweets on a single tweet before, he said, so topping that would be kind of cool.
There’s no way Wendy’s would actually give him free chicken nuggets, he thought.
But when the tweet passed just over 3.43 million retweets, Wendy’s said it would indeed give him free chicken nuggets for a year, even though he remained far from the 18 million retweets the restaurant’s cheeky Twitter account had originally said he would need for the free nuggets. The company also said it would donate $100,000 in his name to the Dave Thomas Foundation For Adoption.
“You’ve more than earned our respect … and the nuggets,” Kurt Kane, chief concept and marketing officer for The Wendy’s Company, said in a statement.
In an interview on Monday, when he was 3,600 retweets behind Ms. DeGeneres, Mr. Wilkerson described a world turned upside down as he prepared for AP tests, considered college applications and took his girlfriend to the prom. In his school’s hallways and at the mall, he heard over and over: “Hey, it’s Nugget Kid!”
“I think they’re all pretty jealous,” he said of his classmates. “Who doesn’t want to be the Nugget Kid?”
The trappings of notoriety aside, he quickly realized that “when you gain internet fame, it’s important to use it for good,” he said.
He encouraged followers to donate to Pinocchio’s Moms on the Run, a Reno organization that supports women with breast cancer. Within days of his tweet gaining worldwide attention, he began selling T-shirts on his website, and he said all money would be donated to the Dave Thomas Foundation For Adoption.
Mr. Wilkerson, a captain on the high school football team who runs hurdles in track, had previously used his Twitter account mostly to keep up with his favorite sports teams and find some funny memes. Now, with more than 100,000 followers, he said he knows he has to watch his mouth.
But he appeared to be fully aware that such internet fame is fleeting, and that today’s Nugget Kid will surely be replaced by tomorrow’s who-knows-what. That leads him to his second goal: to have fun with it.
“It’s super important to enjoy it while it lasts, because it won’t last forever,” he said.
So far, he has succeeded on that front.
As he closed in on Ms. DeGeneres’s record, passing other all-timers like Barack Obama and the members of One Direction, he joined her on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” She gave him a new TV and a year’s supply of her branded underwear, but wasn’t ready to give up her title just yet.
Ellen Meets Her Chicken Nugget Twitter Opponent Video by TheEllenShow
Toward the end of her reign on top of the charts, Ms. DeGeneres tried to play defense. She implored her followers to retweet Mr. Wilkerson, sure, but only if they also retweeted her. That way he could get his nuggs while she maintained her lead.
Ms. DeGeneres created a mock public service announcement with Bradley Cooper, who took the famed selfie, in hopes she wouldn’t “lose that record to some chicken nugget kid.”
If anyone thinks this was all a marketing stunt — a fair question to ask, since that happens a lot on social media — it would have to be a very well-coordinated stunt. Mr. Wilkerson had praised the nuggets long before the viral tweet.
He had always imagined following in his parents’ footsteps — both are dentists — but he said the experience has opened his mind to other careers, like marketing.
“It’d be pretty cool to put on my college applications that I’m the No. 1 retweeted tweet of all time,” he said.

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