Bulletins

A timeline of Elon Musk’s wildest Twitter ideas — and whether they worked out

Elon Musk tweets a lot of big plans, but they don’t always come to fruition.

Elon Musk

Elon Musk seems to tweet whatever the hell he wants without any thought to the consequences.

Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Over the weekend, Elon Musk said something outlandish.

I know what you’re thinking: Be more specific. Well, this time the Tesla CEO indicated he might launch a social network — or, at the very least, wouldn’t rule it out. “Am giving serious thought to this,” he replied to a Twitter user who asked whether Musk would consider building his own rival platform. Musk had earlier criticized Twitter.

"Given that Twitter serves as the de facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy," Musk tweeted. "What should be done?"

Musk actually launching his own platform wouldn’t be quite as unbelievable as some of the other big plans he’s floated to his audience of nearly 80 million users.

While some might consider having that many followers a big responsibility, Musk seems to tweet whatever the hell he wants without any thought to the consequences. And his followers listen: Each tweet garners thousands of likes, retweets and replies.

In 280 characters or less, his famously bonkers tweets — which have quite literally been turned into a coloring book — ignite beefs with tech hotshots and politicians alike, shake markets (think Dogecoin, GameStop and his very own Tesla) and have been the announcement platform for numerous lofty goals. And because Tesla axed its press team in 2020, Musk’s tweets are often the only window the average person can get into the inner workings of his companies.

Musk’s tweets have gotten him in a lot of legal trouble more than once, most recently with the SEC. In 2018, he made an agreement with regulators over fraud charges after he tweeted he could take Tesla private without filing needed regulatory notices, requiring him to get his tweets pre-approved (though he is trying to wiggle out of this agreement at the moment).

How often do Musk’s tweeted promises become reality? Here’s a timeline of what he’s said and what he’s actually done.

March 14: Musk picks a fight with Putin

Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, Musk challenged Russian leader Vladimir Putin to hand-to-hand combat, because of course he did. He said the stakes of their fight “are [Ukraine].” He even doubled down on this offer, later tweeting: “If [Putin] is afraid to fight, I will agree to use only my left hand and I am not even left-handed.”

As far as we know, Putin has not taken Musk up on this offer.

Feb. 26: Musk promises to provide Starlink terminals and internet service to Ukraine

When Mykhailo Fedorov, vice prime minister of Ukraine and its minister of Digital Transformation, asked Musk to bolster Starlink internet service in the country, Musk responded that Starlink services have been activated in Ukraine and terminals were “en route.” Starlink is SpaceX’s internet service, and the donation has provided a reliable fallback as other internet service providers struggle to stay on in the region. According to The Washington Post, more than 5,000 Starlink terminals are active in the country.

Musk followed through: Terminals to operate the service arrived March 1, with a second shipment arriving March 9 that also included power adapters for car cigarette lighters, solar and battery packs and generators.

Dec. 13, 2021: Musk announces SpaceX carbon capture program

Musk revealed that SpaceX was getting into carbon capture technology, tweeting that the company is starting a program to “take CO2 out of atmosphere & turn it into rocket fuel.” He also asked people to “join if interested,” and in true, vague Musk fashion, didn’t give any further details on what the program is or how one could “join.” He tweeted the program “will also be important for Mars,” one of Musk’s biggest goals for SpaceX.

There hasn’t been an update on this concept since his December tweet. Experts have also begun to doubt the efficacy of carbon capture: One study from Stanford found that carbon capture technologies would only reduce a small portion of CO2 emissions, and would simultaneously increase air pollution.

Oct. 31, 2021: Musk says he will sell Tesla stock to end world hunger

A CNN Business article with the headline, “2% of Elon Musk's wealth could help solve world hunger, says director of UN food scarcity organization,” prompted a reaction from Musk. He tweeted: “If WFP can describe on this Twitter thread exactly how $6B will solve world hunger, I will sell Tesla stock right now and do it.” He added that the project must include “open source accounting.”

This prompted David Beasley, who oversees the U.N. World Food Programme, to respond that a donation of that size would “prevent geopolitical instability, mass migration and save 42 million people on the brink of starvation.” Musk asked Beasley to publish “current & proposed spending” on this idea. Beasley responded several more times asking Musk to meet up, championing the World Food Programme’s work and how the math of his donation would work out, but Musk stopped responding.

According to Fortune, Musk did make a $5.7 billion donation in November a few weeks after the interaction, but did not disclose what charity he donated to.

May 12, 2021: Musk says Tesla will suspend bitcoin payments

Musk tweeted that Tesla would stop accepting bitcoin for vehicle purchases due to the environmental impacts of the fossil fuels used in mining the cryptocurrency. He also said that Tesla would hold onto the bitcoin it already has for future transactions when “mining transitions to more sustainable energy.” (Tesla held about $2 billion in bitcoin at the end of 2021.) About a month later, he tweeted that Tesla would resume accepting bitcoin payments when its miners can show they are using roughly 50% clean energy.

Though not much has been announced about this since last summer, Tesla did say in its October earnings report that it “may in the future restart the practice of transacting in cryptocurrencies.”

March 23, 2021: Musk says SpaceX will put people on Mars before 2030

One of SpaceX’s biggest goals is to make humanity interplanetary, and Musk believes that goal is only a few years away. Last March, he tweeted that SpaceX would be landing starships on Mars “well before” 2030. “The really hard threshold is making Mars Base Alpha self-sustaining,” he said.

SpaceX’s major mission is making space more accessible (the company did send four people into orbit in September for a few days). But he’s made promises like this before. In 2018, he said 2022 would be the year SpaceX launched two cargo ships to Mars, and 2024 would be the year the company took people there.

Jan. 21, 2021: Musk says he will donate $100 million to carbon capture technology

Last January, Musk tweeted: “Am donating $100M towards a prize for best carbon capture technology.” He followed it up with, “Details next week.”

In this case, the details did come a few weeks later: Musk partnered with nonprofit XPRIZE Foundation to fund a $100 million competition for the team that could “demonstrate a working solution at a scale of at least 1000 (carbon) tonnes removed per year; model their costs at a scale of 1 million tonnes per year; and show a pathway to achieving a scale of gigatonnes per year in future,” according to the website. It’s the largest incentive prize in history.

The competition will last until Earth Day in 2025.

March 25, 2020: Musk promises to help source ventilators for COVID-19 treatment

Toward the end of March in 2020, after earlier downplaying COVID-19 (literally tweeting, “The coronavirus panic is dumb”), Musk attempted to lend a hand in helping with COVID-19 hospitalizations by procuring ventilators for several cities. He tweeted on March 25: “Giga New York will reopen for ventilator production as soon as humanly possible. We will do anything in our power to help the citizens of New York.” He later tweeted that he delivered 1,000 ventilators to Los Angeles that he sourced from China, which California Gov. Gavin Newsom called “a heroic effort.”

Musk reportedly didn’t deliver the right kind of ventilator, however. Rather than invasive ventilators used to intubate COVID-19 patients, Musk delivered BiPAP and CPAP machines, which are used to treat sleep apnea.

July 8, 2018: Musk plans to rescue Thai youth soccer team with a submarine

Who could forget when Musk attempted to play Tony Stark to try to help rescue a Thai youth soccer team trapped in a cave? Musk tweeted out videos testing out a “tiny, kid-sized submarine” that he wanted to use to rescue the soccer team. The only problem: The rescuers didn’t end up needing the technology. His tweets about the tests came hours after reports that four of the children had already been rescued.

Musk later lashed out at Vernon Unsworth, the diver who saved the kids, calling him a "pedo guy" on Twitter (an insult which resulted in a defamation lawsuit that Musk eventually won).

“I didn't literally mean he was a pedophile," Musk said on the witness stand in December 2019.

March 26, 2018: Musk promises to sell bricks made from tunneling materials

Musk decided to get into the brick business in early 2018. He tweeted that his tunneling company, The Boring Co., would offer “lifesize LEGO-like interlocking bricks made from tunneling rock” as merch to create sculptures and buildings. A day later he tweeted: “And they said I’d never be a rock star.” The bricks were meant to be sold at 10 cents a piece, and would be given away for free to affordable housing projects.

Well, if becoming a “rock star” is making 500 bricks that the company didn’t end up selling, he definitely did it. YouTube channel “What’s Inside” reviewed one of the bricks in October 2020, two years after the limited release, in which the show’s host revealed that he actually purchased his brick for $200 because Musk gave the 500 bricks to employees, rather than putting them up for sale. It’s unclear whether or not Boring Co. plans to release more bricks.

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“Been thinking about anti-perks in tech jobs. What perks *sound* good but are a hard no from you?”

The tweet came from Jessica Rose, a developer relations advocate, founder of a meetup series for programmers and aspiring programmers and co-founder of Trans*Code, a hacker org devoted to drawing attention to transgender issues and opportunities.

Rose’s “hard no” was to those so-called benefits that have been around since time immemorial (or at least since the dot-com era). “Don't give me food or hammocks or video games, just let me work remotely or go home on time,” said Rose.

'Don’t touch me'

The tweet thread was full of varied responses, but the paradox of unlimited vacation was the clear favorite. “Wow, people are just so suspicious about unlimited paid time off,” Rose told Protocol when we caught up with her to ask about the tweet.

Other workers balked at in-office massages (“don’t touch me”), free booze, open-plan offices (did anyone in the history of the world ever call this a benefit?), fitness rooms, nap rooms, escape rooms (really any rooms), and something called “blameless retrospectives.” Um, what?

If employees are going to be suspicious of whatever perks you offer, why offer any perks at all?

“So I'm aware of how wonderfully spoiled it is to complain about perks being given out in some kinds of tech workplaces,” said Rose. “I'm the most unimpressed by ‘perks’ which either directly undermine employment rights (like unlimited paid time off can do in some regions) or are intended to throw work/life balance out of kilter in the workplace's favor.”

Unlimited or flexible vacation time can work, but it helps when the culture is one where people are encouraged to take time off and experts agree that mandatory minimums go a long way in helping create that kind of culture.

Your best interests or mine? Why can’t it be both? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

A director of engineering at Google who formerly worked at Microsoft and Zillow called employer-sponsored coaching an anti-perk. “I’ll spring for a coach who is looking out for my best interests, not the company’s, thanks,” she said, adding, “I know I am lucky to be offered this, but it always feels like a trap.”

There’s good reason to be at least a little wary of these programs. Last year Protocol reported that when tech companies work with coaching programs like BetterUp and Bravely the conversations themselves are confidential, but the company often receives aggregated reports on the issues workers are expressing in general, the topics they’re discussing, what's going well for them at work, and what's not.

When Protocol spoke to Twilio’s VP of talent management Andrew Wilhelms about the company's coaching partnership, Wilhelms explained that BetterUp provides a set of Twilio-specific priorities to coaches and Twilio can update those priorities and goals based on what kind of culture change the company needs to see.

This might feel overly controlling, or it might be a great way to help change a company’s culture for the better, especially if a majority of employees are feeling stressed and burned out and are more likely to tell this to a coach than their manager. Twilio told Protocol that 99% of the employees who used the coaching service last year said the sessions were a valuable use of their time, and that 94% said the sessions made them more effective at their job.

“Thoughtful, meaningful perks can benefit both employers and team members, by helping keep their team members happy and hopefully keep them in their role for longer,” Rose said.

Free SunChips < values-based work culture

Research shows that today’s employees don’t want snacks as much as they want work that aligns with their values, and that extends to benefits.

  • “I love work perks that demonstrate an employer's ethics and commitment to meaningfully supporting their team members,” said Rose.
  • These benefits can include big structural benefits like location-agnostic pay and support for different kinds of employee leave, but also smaller things like “sending people a small bonus on their birthday to buy a cake,” Rose added.
  • Rose also looks for “employers who don't subcontract out cleaning or security staff, to make sure that all of their team members get access to the same kinds of pay and support.”

What your 'perks' say about your corporate culture

Some “anti-perks” are just common decency and respect, such as believing your employees are telling the truth when they call in sick. In response to Rose’s prompt, one senior system admin pointed out a job listing that offers an “honor-based sick leave policy” in addition to its “commitment to an open, inclusive and diverse work culture.”

And think twice about listing your game room in your job description, tweeted a product designer from Miro:

“When they advertise a ping-pong table in the job listing, it's a huge 🚩 for me. And I love ping-pong. If a silly perk like this [is] such a relevant part of your benefits package, that says a lot about what the company values, and likely its culture."

A version of this story appeared in Protocol's Workplace newsletter. Sign up here to get it in your inbox three times a week.

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Another outlier, Google, has been in hybrid mode since April, reportedly leading to outbreaks of COVID-19 at the office. Yet for all the talk about Google’s three-day-a-week RTO policy, two workers who spoke to Protocol anonymously say it’s not much of a mandate. An employee and a contractor both told Protocol that the hybrid policy doesn’t seem to be imposed across the board.

“The impression I have is that it’s basically not enforced,” the employee said. The Google contractor said attendance varied across different teams, noting that while some of their teammates go to the office three days a week, most only go in once. (Neither Google nor Apple returned emails inquiring about how their hybrid policies are enforced.)

Sundar Pichai’s plan to make Google “20% more efficient” may lead nervous workers to choose to go to the office more often. (An August survey found that CBRE tenants were “evenly split” on whether a recession would drive more workers to the office out of anxiety for their job security.)

As of now, most companies’ hybrid requirements are only enforced as a “very soft mandate,” said Brian Kropp, distinguished VP of research at Gartner. About half of companies with a hybrid mandate are tracking office attendance, Kropp said, but even those that are doing so “have no real plans to fire people for not coming to the office, as long as they’re getting their work done.”

More than 40% of HR leaders surveyed by Gartner last month said they weren’t tracking office attendance. Thirty-five percent said they were gathering attendance data from key fob or badge swipes, while 22% said managers were tracking their teams’ attendance. Another 10% said employees were self-reporting their attendance.

Companies that selectively enforce attendance requirements may wind up with unfair outcomes, Kropp said.

“If you have a mandated set of days where you have to come to the office, but it’s unevenly enforced across the company, then you run into issues of fairness,” Kropp said. “That just creates more variability across the company, which then creates more risk as well in terms of that inconsistency.”

And while flexibility puts companies at an advantage when it comes to competing for talent, it also requires more sophisticated management, Kropp said. “The question you should really be asking is: Does our managerial population, on average, have the capability to manage much more flexibility, or not?” Kropp said. “If the answer is ‘yes, they do,’ you should push for as much flexibility as you can.”

To run high-performing teams in a flexible environment, managers need to be “half social worker, half engineer,” Kropp said. That means more empathy and more capacity for planning and organization.

While companies may seem settled into their hybrid ways of working, many leaders are leaving policies open to change with time rather than overcommitting themselves. The world is unpredictable, as we’ve learned in the last 2.5 years. “A lot of these executives — the way that they’re framing it now is, ‘This is our hybrid strategy for now, and it could evolve and could change,’” Kropp said.

Amazon falls into that category. As Andy Jassy put it at the Code Conference on Wednesday, Amazon doesn’t have a plan to force employees back to the office: “We’re going to proceed adaptively as we learn.”

A version of this story appeared in Protocol's Workplace newsletter. Sign up here to get it in your inbox three times a week.

Bulletins