July 18, 2024

Tyna Woods

Technology does the job

@Dril speaks on Musk and Twitter

@Dril speaks on Musk and Twitter


With over 1.7 million followers, Dril, known for his absurdist humor, is the type of influencer who could only emerge on an app like Twitter.

Dril started his account in September 2008, just two years after Twitter launched, and as the platform grew, so did his impact. He became the face of what’s often referred to as “weird Twitter,” a broad and amorphous coalition of comedy accounts. Now, for many Twitter users, he serves as a kind of canary in the coal mine. “If dril leaves twitter nothing will be left,” one user tweeted. “If @dril leaves Twitter, Twitter’s basically dead even if it doesn’t actually die,” another said.

For Dril, the chaos of Musk’s ownership has been entertaining, and he plans to see it through. “Elon, he invented the Hyperloop,” Dril said in a rare interview, referring to Musk’s vision of high-speed underground transport, which has not yet been built. “I think Twitter will be just like that. It’s a work in progress, he’s building it from the ground up. He’s gonna make it nicer, and they’re going to use freedom of speech to cut down on bull—- in daily life. I think it’s gonna be a beautiful thing at the end of the day.”

To those trying to predict Twitter’s fate, there’s probably no one more representative of a certain part of Twitter than Dril. His posts have become meme formats and copypasta; in one tweet he even appeared to predict the end of Twitter in 2022. Academics have dissected and analyzed his tweets. The A.V. Club, an online publication devoted to pop culture, declared Dril “the patron saint of the internet itself” and “a rare rallying point and muse for everyone, regardless of affiliation or creed.”

Dril is a symbol of what a lot of people loved about Twitter, pre-Musk. His account is strange and absurd, often profane, and he’s the type of creator unlikely to thrive elsewhere.

Twitter user Nick Farruggia recently painstakingly catalogued every one of Dril’s posts. “Refuse to lose the tweets from the best poster ever… here it is: every @dril tweet in chronological order, up & free forever,” he recently tweeted.

As Musk seeks to bend Twitter to his vision, Dril is an example of the sort of power center that he’ll be unable to budge: established, popular and indifferent.

“Dril and Elon are on opposite sides of the spectrum, when it comes to internet-based language,” said Jamie Cohen, assistant professor of media studies at CUNY Queens College, who once taught a class on weird Twitter. “Dril is a community member, he was born of the internet, Elon merely adopted it. If Elon wants to succeed and make this thing work, the person he has to win over the most is Dril and his community.”

“Dril’s tweets are a baseline foundational text for Twitter, they are part of the structure of Twitter,” said Alex Turvy, a PhD researcher at Tulane University studying memes and digital culture. “He is the godfather of Twitter, and his tweets are a shared reference we can all call on when talking to people online. He’s part of Twitter’s cultural memory.”

When reached by phone, Dril agreed to chat about the new era for a platform he helped define, provided The Washington Post refer to him only by his Twitter handle, because of privacy concerns. It’s the kind of interview that should be read with a firm understanding of Dril’s role as comedic entertainer, not to be taken too seriously.

The ups and downs of Twitter

So far, Dril said, he’s enjoying the spectacle of Musk’s takeover. “Elon seems like one of the classic comedic showmen,” he said. “Everything he does is a comedic bit. He’s always trying to get a laugh, that’s why he makes all his cars suicidal. Just watching everything burn, it’s entertaining, that’s for sure.”

One thing he’s noticed since the Musk takeover is that his posts have not been spreading as far as they used to. On Friday, Musk declared that “negative/hate tweets” will be “deboosted & demonetized,” effectively thwarting their ability to spread in a practice known as shadowbanning.

Since taking over Twitter, CEO Elon Musk has laid off thousands, many tasked with maintaining crucial services. Former staff worry the site may collapse. (Video: Jonathan Baran/The Washington Post)

Dril said the negative post ban was already affecting his account. “It’s wild what they’re doing to me,” he said. “My freedom of speech has been eradicated.” He expressed frustration with the lack of clarity on what constitutes a negative post. “Say a Tesla ran into my son and killed him,” he said, referring to one of Musk’s other businesses. “Maybe I think that it’s fine, it’s not negative that a Tesla ran into my son and killed him. That’s fine, because it’s a work in progress.” Musk cannot know if a Tesla running over his son was actually very positive, Dril explained, and so it should not be ranked as a negative tweet.

Still, he added, “Maybe I was just negative from the start, maybe I have a negative attitude.”

Dril said he’d be willing to work at Twitter himself if Musk asked. “I think it would be my duty to answer the call,” Dril said. “I would absolutely do it. I would be his dog, I would follow his every order like a disgusting dog. I would beg for his mercy and I would learn to code if it pleased him.”

While other users scramble to join Twitter replacements and find alternative ways to connect with friends online, Dril said he was unable to find an app that fulfilled his needs as well. He has set up official Dril accounts on Instagram, Tumblr, and YouTube, but posts very infrequently. He also has his own website and a Patreon for fans willing to pay a few dollars a month to support him.

The more emergent apps confuse him. “I’d like to know what these apps are, because none of the apps I’ve used are good,” he said. “They ask you for pictures of your son, your father. They’re unusable basically. They have Russian pop-up ads and malware. I’m not planning on leaving Twitter anytime soon.”

Mastodon, the much talked about refuge for people fleeing Twitter, is too complicated, he says. “What server do I join?,” he said, referring to Mastodon’s many choices of servers. “The good post server or the bad post server? I don’t know. There’s no guide, there’s no little blue bird you can click on for help.”

TikTok is out of the question because, “I have a reprehensible visage that does not allow me to use any video-based apps,” he said.

Substack worries him. “With Substack, it’s right there in the name,” he said. “You’re submitting. If you sign up for that, you’re being submissive to the cabal of internet content.”

One platform he’s open to exploring is the metaverse, a concept recently championed by Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Dril said the possibility of engaging with people in the metaverse while not wearing pants was appealing to him. “I will be the guy there, and I’ll win whatever game Zuckerberg is trying to create,” he said.

Dril is also open to accepting deals from smaller platforms that might pay him to post. “If any of the apps were good or were run by people with more than three or four brain cells to rub together, they’d recognize the potential of my posts and offer me five or six hundred dollars to be the ambassador of their new platform, and I’d bring all my followers with me,” he said. “I think they’d all be on board no matter how … unusable the platform is. If any potential Twitter replacers are out there reading this, I’d love for you to give me your money.”

He is disappointed that he seemingly wouldn’t be able to monetize negative posts under Musk’s regime.

“It’d be nice to get a little something in the mail every once in a while for all the content that I put my blood on the line for,” he said, “but you know, Elon is saying, ‘I’m going to demonetize you if you have a nasty attitude.’ Sometimes I need to have a nasty attitude to keep myself safe in this world. The show Westworld, that’s what it’s like out there.”

“I used to be able to post without being threatened,” he said, “now I’m basically under the barrel of a gun 24/7 because people are constantly saying, ‘this joke was better when you said it in 2014.’ I hope Elon cuts down on that sort of thing, because that’s just barbaric what people are saying to me.”

While Musk’s proposed verification system, where any user can pay $8 a month for a blue check mark, has been linked with the spread of misinformation, Dril isn’t concerned. “Folks like me, we know the truth when we hear it,” he said. “It strikes you in the heart. You feel it in your stomach. When someone’s lying, you can see them sweating. They look very disheveled and rat-like.” But $8 is too hefty for him personally, so he said he will never pay for a check mark.

He appreciates that Elon is using his personal Twitter account as the de facto comms channel for news about the company. “The reason it works so well,” Dril said, “is if Elon wants to accuse some random guy of being a pedophile, he’s just allowed to do that. … Everything is a streamlined approach with Elon, you don’t want bureaucratic red tape blocking the news cameras, you just want the straight guff from the man himself.”

When he looks back at his more than 14 years on Twitter, Dril said he has fond memories. He loved the day when a man threatened to sue a cereal company because there were pieces of shrimp in the box, and he enjoyed when someone called Garfield a slur and was booted off the platform. He said one of his top moments on the app was when Dog the Bounty Hunter blocked him.

A low point for Dril was when Musk himself stole one of his posts about being drafted into a skeleton war and claimed it as his own. “He posted the tweet verbatim and cropped my name completely out of it,” Dril said. “His girlfriend Grimes, she condones this sort of behavior. He’s stealing my posts and not even paying me. He’s threatening to demonetize me when he’s already capitalizing on my content, and I’m not getting a cent.”

If Twitter’s infrastructure does fail and the platform goes down for good, Dril said he’s at peace with it.

“I think it’ll be like a cleansing fire,” he said. “It’ll burn down the house that I grew up in, and, with it, all the memories will be gone. I can start from a clean slate, tabula rasa. From there, I can try again and hopefully make an account that’s actually good.”