Sorry Not Sorry: The Validity of Internet Apologies

One of the first things taught to us as children is that when we do something wrong we have to say sorry and try to make it up. Apologies shouldn’t be anything new to the world, but there is a new form that apologies have taken since Internet celebrities became a thing.

In online and social media communities there has risen an apology cycle used by content creators on the platform. A creator does something that is offensive or controversial and then calls it a prank, a social experiment or just says that everyone calling them out for what they did needs to loosen up and take a joke.

In December 2017 Logan Paul, a social media celebrity and vlogger on the video sharing platform YouTube, visited Aokigahara. Aokigahara is a dense forest at the Northwest base of Mount Fuji in Japan and is known as the Sea of Trees, or more infamously as the Suicide Forest.

During this particular trip to Aokigahara, Logan Paul took the opportunity to make a 15-minute vlog of the visit. In this vlog, he comes across a dead body of a man who has committed suicide by hanging himself. Logan Paul takes some time and shouts at the body saying, “Yo, are you alive?”

According to Logan the intention of the vlog was humor. But don’t bother looking for the vlog: the video was removed early on Jan. 2. Almost immediately following the removal, Logan Paul uploaded another video with teary eyes and apologizing for the vlog, saying that he has “made a severe and continuous lapse in my judgment.” “I don’t expect to be forgiven,” he states, and he is “simply here to apologize.” However, before his apology video was posted Logan Paul tweeted out screenshots from the notes app of his iPhone that detailed his apology. In this apology, Logan Paul stated that he “didn’t do this for views. I get views.”

This quick and tearful apology after the takedown of a video or negative backlash and comments is nothing new to the YouTube and social media community. Over just the past few years they have become synonymous with the “It’s just a prank bro” meme since the greatest number of these apology videos come from online pranksters.

After committing and documenting sexual harassment of people of the street, kidnapping and faking murders, faking a suicide and a variety of other things that result in the content creators videos being taken down or demonized or even having lawsuits brought against them, the creator will make a post or video tearfully apologizing or saying it was just a social experiment.

A little closer to home, over the holiday season a popular tattoo parlor in Salt Lake City, Salt City Tattoo, received major backlash and even protests outside of the storefront on Dec. 22, due to a particular gift featured on their Instagram story after an offensive/prank white elephant gift exchange that the store held on Dec 19.

The post showed what they called a “rape kit” that an employee brought in, and they did not mean a kit used by medical personnel to collect and preserve any physical evidence following a sexual assault; they meant a kit that contained items that one would assume is used to aid in committing sexual assault and rape, including a pair of black gloves, a pocket knife, a roll of duct tape and lubricant.

This understandably upset a great number of people. Customers and members of the tattoo community began threatening to boycott the shop and began leaving one-star rates of the shop online. Additionally, groups of people showed up outside of Salt City Tattoo to protest the actions of the employee and further advocate for victims of sexual assault and rape.

On their Instagram Salt City Tattoo now has two posts that are screenshots from the notes app on someone’s smartphone apologizing and further explaining the situation.

Whether they be online content creators, social media celebrities or just the average internet user, people have shown almost consistently that the first “apology” that is spread out to their followers is more defensive and says something along the lines of, “people who were offended by the content or considered it in poor taste just don’t get it and should stop taking everything so seriously.” These statements usually come in the form of a tweet, text post or just a screenshot of the notes app on their smartphone.

Next is when the more personable “apology” is created. The camera comes out, whether on their smartphone or the more professional set up at a studio, and a video gets uploaded to social media and video sharing platforms. In these the person apologizes, usually tearfully, asking for the forgiveness and understanding of their audience.

This and other formats of apologies nearly directly show what is known as the patterns of apologia and the research conducted by SUU faculty Dr. Kevin Stein and Dr. Matthew Barton. In their research, Dr. Stein and Dr. Barton discuss and show how technology is changing the nature and ways that people apologize. They say in their research that today’s technology has created “a wider dissemination of these types of messages. Media will cover the offense, the firestorm of criticism that usually follows, and then the subsequent apology.”

If you or anyone you know has any thoughts about apologies and their place in internet culture or if the apologies made by online content creators are valid, send a Letter to the Editor.

Story By
Carlee Jo Blumenthal

Cartoon By
Sam Sherrill