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Ex-Viking Chris Kluwe on Being Among the First Twitter Casualties of the Elon Era

@ChrisWarcraft went "down guns blazing" as he impersonated Elon last week. RIP.

Screenshot of tweets Kluwe sent out before being banned, including ""There is nothing better than waking up and enjoying a fresh, steaming cup of my own urine. Such a tangy way to start the day, and it's scientifically proven to help brain cells grow. If you want to be like me, drink your pee."
Screenshot from Twitter

Two weeks ago, when billionaire dipshit Elon Musk bought Twitter, he proudly proclaimed, “Comedy is now legal.” Last week, after some of the platform’s popular verified users started doing comedy that involved impersonating Musk, the thin-skinned message board mod amended his previous statement, banning several of those users in the process. “Going forward, any Twitter handles engaging in impersonation without specifying ‘parody’ will be permanently suspended,” Musk tweeted Sunday.

Man, the sense of humor on this guy! It’s almost like he’s learned that there’s some merit to being able to verify that people are who they say they are online.

Among the Musk impersonators suspended from the platform in last week’s sweep: local podcaster Matt Helgeson, author Manu Saadia, cartoonist Jeph Jacques, comedian Kathy Griffin, and former Minnesota Viking Chris Kluwe. Minnesotans became familiar with Kluwe’s mirthful troublemaking back in 2012, when the punter became an outspoken ally of gay rights and a spirited opponent of Minnesota’s ballot amendment that would’ve banned same-sex marriage. (He claims that outspokenness cost him his job after eight seasons with the Vikes.) Now 40, Kluwe pursues his various passions—writing, gaming, music making, and superb online shit talking—from California. That latter passion recently irked the genius who sunk $44 billion of his $200 billion fortune into an unprofitable online swamp.

“There is nothing better than waking up and enjoying a fresh, steaming cup of my own urine,” Kluwe tweeted, among other things, with his display name and avatar mimicking Musk’s. “Such a tangy way to start the day, and it’s scientifically proven to help brain cells grow. If you want to be like me, drink your pee.”

Tremendous content.

Anyway, Kluwe has some time on his hands now that he’s been banned from Twitter, so we caught up with him to talk about his blaze-of-glory exit from the platform. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell me a little bit about how your last few weeks have been. Elon buys Twitter, things start to go off the rails pretty quickly… at one point were you like, “You know what? This is it, for me.”

For me, it was when it looked like they were serious about implementing pay to play, essentially, for verification. At that point, it takes the platform from something where verification is a necessity to prevent the spread of disinformation and turns it into, “OK, we’re gonna try and squeeze as much money out of this as we can, regardless of if it spreads disinformation.” And regardless of the fact that it’s really a drop in the bucket compared to how much debt he took on to buy the company!

It really is just absurd when you think about it for… even a few seconds.

He’s burning it down for pennies. From a business standpoint, it makes no sense whatsoever.

I obviously can’t view your account at this point since you’ve been permanently banned—well, I assume the ban is permanent?

I would assume so, too. [Laughs] I mean, I have no plans on going back.

OK, so take me from the beginnings of the Elon impersonation to your ban on Friday.

The timeline on it was, I was sitting in bed, just browsing the news and everything. And based on the way things were going, I was like, “This site is going to be unusable within the span of a couple of weeks.” So, if the Titanic is sinking, I’m just going down guns blazing. Let’s have some fun before we all go out!

I made a very deliberate choice. I knew this was a ban-worthy sentence. This wasn’t even close to the realm of parody. In my mind, I was like, “Hopefully someone looks at this as like, a case study in why selling verification is a bad thing.” Because it’s really easy to fool people if they think it’s coming from a trusted source.

Absolutely. Even knowing these were obviously joke tweets, glancing at them, you’re kind of like, “Oh wow, did Elon say that?”

Right? And the other thing is like, I didn’t even go half as hard as I could have. Like, I didn’t include any links to ransomeware. Or malware. Or somewhere to enter your social security number. I guarantee you, that’s coming. From a scammer’s perspective, eight dollars? You get a huge return on your investment, if you can get even one person to click on one of those links. You could not build a better system for people who want to scam others.

The biggest tweet I had before they locked the account—I think it got like 100,000 likes and 10,000 retweets or somewhere around there, which is fairly viral for Twitter. And of the responses to that, as I was going through the replies, about a quarter of them were people who legit thought I was Elon Musk. Like… OK, that’s worrying. Not unanticipated, but still definitely worrying.

The biggest one—I’m not sure‚ was that the piss tweet?

Funnily enough, at least when I checked before I got kicked off, it wasn’t that one, it was one where I mimicked the alt-right meme format, where it had the frowny face and the “I need your eight dollars” and then “But you’re the richest man in the world, and you promised to end world hunger, and you need my eight dollars?” I got so many people responding to that one who thought I was Elon Musk who were like, “Why are you dunking on yourself?” And then another huge portion of those replies were people who were like, “You really got me at first.”

Well I have to imagine it was a least a fun last couple of days on Twitter!

It definitely was. My last tweet as “me” was, “I’ll see you on the other side.” The endpoint of this was never in doubt, and honestly, the most surprising part about it was that it took them I think like 15 or 16 hours to finally shut me down. Which is a ridiculous amount of time!

You’re someone who’s used Twitter a lot over the last several years, and certainly one of the bigger and more active accounts from former NFL players. Do you feel any sense of remorse or loss or are you just like, “I’m good”?

I mean, it bums me out, because I did get a chance to meet a lot of people I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. One of the great things about Twitter is you can have a conversation with someone who, in the physical world, your odds of having that conversation are almost zero. But without any sort of moderation, without any sort of trust process—and I know he’s paying lip service, like, “Oh yeah, we’ll have moderation, we’ll have verification steps,” but if you look at his actions, that’s never been the case. And if you don’t have that, then its utility as a public space spirals down until it’s not worth anything. You might as well go to 4chan at that point.

Totally. I’ve seen people who are for this new paid verification, who see it as an egalitarian move, saying, “This gets rid of a two-party system, where you have ‘verifieds’ and the ‘not verifieds.'” But in the end you still have that, it’s just “who pays” vs. “who doesn’t.”

And it’s not even that you’re paying to be verified because the information you have is important, you’re paying to be verified because you think it’s a status symbol. That destroys the whole trust factor of verification.

I do feel kind of silly talking about this sometimes. It makes it sound like I’m obsessed with my little blue checkmark. I’m really not!

I will say, don’t feel silly talking about it, because let’s not forget: Facebook posts started a literal genocide. Social media can cause a lot of harm in the wrong hands!

That actually does make me feel a little better. Also worse. Twitter is so funny because it’s where we share memes and it’s where we get breaking news. Sometimes it’s anonymous shitposting, other times it really matters if someone is who they say they are.

There is a way Elon could have gone about it to realistically set a verification process, where it’s like, “OK, knowing who people are is important, so we’re going to have you pay a one-time fee to cover the overhead to actually get that verification process in place so it happens quickly and accurately.” That’s a completely different thing than being like, “We’re just gonna charge you a monthly subscription fee to try and up revenue.” One of those actually cares about the process of verification, the other is just trying to squeeze money from a corpse.

And not a very effective way to try and squeeze money from a corpse, I don’t think.

No. And that’s another part of this whole thing: the idea that most of the content that goes onto Twitter comes from those verified accounts. Your business model is based around, essentially, unpaid labor, and now you want to charge them? For their unpaid labor? In what world does that make sense? It’s not like YouTube or Instagram or TikTok where you can become monetarily successful through the platform. People don’t really make money through Twitter. That’s not a thing. So it’s like, should I pay someone to put my content out? Or should I be paid to put content out? Tough choice.

You’re also on Instagram, but when we were emailing earlier you mentioned you’re not very active there. Are you thinking of moving to another social network, or are you kind of like, “My days as a poster are behind me”?

For me, it’s probably “My days as a poster are behind me.” I personally prefer the text-based format, with the occasional image or whatever. I’m very much a written word type of person. I love reading books, I love consuming content and news through the written word, because that’s, for me personally, just what works. There really isn’t another service that’s like what Twitter had, which is primarily written-word-based.

That’s the thing I’m kind of sad about. Again, it feels almost silly, but as a writer or a reporter, this is where we’ve met sources, it’s how we share our work. It does feel a little daunting to leave all that behind.

It’s like losing your favorite coffee shop or bar or something, the place where you just hang out. It just happened to be that there were millions of people hanging out at this bar. And you could have a casual conversations that might potentially lead to something more interesting—you might overhear two people talking about foreign policy and go, “Wow, I just learned something I never knew. That was really cool.”

I saw a really great take from a tech writer who said suggesting Twitter users move to Mastodon is like saying, “Don’t drink at the the country club full of wealthy and well-connected famous people, come to my bar, it has the same alcohol.” The alcohol isn’t the point—it’s the people in the bar.

I just saw a tweet from Neil Gaiman kind of talking about the whole situation. And basically, he was saying that it feels like you’re at the party, but the hosts are starting to clean stuff up, and you’re figuring it’s time to head out. I’m like, yup, that’s exactly what it feels like.

It was fun while it lasted!

Yup! Nothing lasts forever. And I don’t think this will be the end of Twitter, but I definitely think it’s the end of Twitter that we know, and I don’t think it’ll ever come back in that same form. To riff off that metaphor of, you know, the coolest bar in the world, I got to meet so many people that—even though I was a pseudo-celebrity as a former athlete—I probably never would have had the chance to meet in real life. But via Twitter, I got to meet so many cool people. Some were verified, some were not. A lot were not. That’s the part that sucks: All those connections, now they’re gonna go away.

Well, Chris, for what it’s worth I very much enjoyed your sort of viking-funeral, out-in-a-blaze-of-glory Twitter exit.

Absolutely. [Laughs] What better way to go out than as a viking?