Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
By Alyssa Newcomb

Want to send Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg a Facebook message or call up Apple's CEO Tim Cook? Good luck. But reaching Tesla head Elon Musk quickly has proven to be as simple as sending him a tweet with an intriguing idea.

Tesla debuted an adorable video on Thursday for a new feature called “Dog Mode,” which creates a cooler environment for pets who need to be left in a car for a short period of time. And it all seemed to start on Twitter. In October, a user tweeted Musk to ask if he could create the feature, to which Musk replied, “Yes.”

Musk’s freewheeling approach to Twitter has proven to be a double-edged sword. Last year it led to the billionaire being slapped with fraud charges, fines, and a lawsuit. But he’s also hatched some of his most popular ideas on the platform.

In an interview this week with tech editor Kara Swisher, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said Musk is his favorite influential tweeter.

“He’s focused on solving existential problems and sharing his thinking openly. I respect that a lot, and all the ups and downs that come with it,” said Dorsey.

Those “downs” have included Musk being charged with fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission after he tweeted that he was thinking about taking Tesla private. He settled the charges last September, and agreed to pay a $20 million fine and to step down as chairman of Tesla.

Musk’s comments have also incited the Twitter mob to clap back at reporters or anyone else who dares to say something he might not like — in one instance, accusing a journalist of working for one of Tesla's biggest short-sellers.

But on Thursday, Musk finally came as close as he could to uniting the Twitter masses.

The response to “dog mode” was called Musk’s “finest moment” according to early feedback from Twitter users. The feature uses a Tesla’s display, located to the right of the steering wheel, to show the temperature and a note for passersby that says, “My owner will be back soon.” If the Tesla’s battery reaches less than a 20 percent charge, “dog mode” will send the owner a notification via phone.

The new feature was praised as “amazing” and “the most important thing ever” on Twitter. As one user put it: “Now I just need a Tesla. And a dog.”

It’s not the first time Musk has done business on Twitter.

When the southern part of Australia was dealing with blackouts, Musk tweeted that he could fix the problem within 100 days or would offer the government a refund. In 2017, he made good on that promise, building the world’s largest lithium ion battery as back-up support to the power grid.

But the freewheeling, no-filter way Musk tweets has also got him in trouble. When a young Thai soccer team was trapped in a cave last July, Musk tweeted photos and video of a “kid-sized” submarine his team developed that he hoped could help with the rescue. When the effort was criticized by a British expert cave diver, Musk hit back and called him a “pedo guy” on Twitter. That unsubstantiated claim led to a lawsuit, which Musk’s attorneys filed to dismiss in December on First Amendment grounds.

A hearing is scheduled for April 1, a notorious day in Twitter history for the billionaire. Last year, on April Fools Day, Musk tweeted that Tesla was going bankrupt. Not everyone knew he was joking.