OP-ED: The Age of Online Apology Videos (2024)

OP-ED: The Age of Online Apology Videos (1)

One of the weirdest phenomena of the internet is the start of the “apology video.” As YouTube soared in popularity during the 2000s, creators found themselves attaining unprecedented levels of fame, amassing millions of subscribers. However, with this newfound fame came increased scrutiny, and inevitably, creators found themselves “needing” to confront their actions online. Initially, these apologies were directly tied to the creator’s content, such as Shane Dawson addressing his past videos featuring blackface or Tana Mongeau apologizing for her poorly planned meet-and-greet/convention. They serve as a public acknowledgment of wrongdoing, an attempt to mitigate damage to their reputation, and a promise of improvement. Yet, they also raise questions about sincerity, accountability, and the performative nature of public apologies in the digital age.

As time progressed, the incidents prompting apology videos became increasingly serious and often had little direct connection to the content creators’ online personas. These apologies extended beyond missteps related to their internet presence, delving into personal conduct or even egregious acts they were involved in. For instance, Laura Lee made a video sobbing and apologizing for past racist tweets resurfacing. Colleen Ballinger notably sang her apology for her involvement in inappropriate relationships with minor fans. These apology videos, regardless of their sincerity, emerged because the creators’ actions in their private lives clashed with the values associated with their online brand. In an attempt to reconcile these conflicting identities, the creators chose to publicly address and apologize for their off-brand behavior, seeking forgiveness from their audience.

OP-ED: The Age of Online Apology Videos (2)

Now, I have personally never been too shocked to see an apology video from any of these aforementioned creators. But, have we come to a time where apology videos are seen as the norm? If any celebrity does anything wrong, are they supposed to make a video pleading for forgiveness? Usually, celebrities have a PR team that will make a statement on their behalf, but is this new “trend” (for lack of a better word) changing the way we think of apologies?

Sean Combs, also known as P. Diddy, Diddy, Puff Daddy (whatever you really want to call him is not my business), is a major record producer often credited with “discovering” Biggie Smalls, Mary J. Blige, and Usher. In late 2023, Cassandra “Cassie” Ventura, singer and Diddy’s ex, filed a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against him for sexual assault, sex trafficking, and domestic abuse. The two parties settled out of court the day after Ventura filed the lawsuit. Both Combs and his PR team have adamantly denied any wrongdoing. Even other celebrities, like Slim Thug, have gotten in the mix supporting Combs and vilifying Ventura.

OP-ED: The Age of Online Apology Videos (3)

On May 17th, CNN released security footage from 2016 depicting Combs violently assaulting Ventura in a Los Angeles Hotel. The footage captures Combs shoving Ventura to the ground, then dragging, punching, and kicking her repeatedly, before throwing a vase in her direction. This incident was outlined in the original lawsuit, despite Combs adamantly denying it. While speculation may swirl about the dynamics of Combs’ and Ventura’s relationship, there is now undeniable evidence of Combs’ physical assault on Ventura.

Like I mentioned, I usually can smell an apology video from miles away. However, I could’ve never predicted that Combs would make one of his own. Two days after the security footage was released, Combs posted a minute-long apology video on Instagram with the caption “I’m truly sorry.” In it, he admitted to hitting “rock bottom” and made no excuses for his actions. He also said that he is now in therapy and rehab. He also never mentions Ventura by name, likely for legal reasons.

OP-ED: The Age of Online Apology Videos (4)

This moment, for me, marks a turning point in apologies. As I watched the video, one question kept popping up in my brain: “Why is he doing this?” While I understand the potential damage to his carefully cultivated image and brand, what does an apology video truly achieve in a case of this gravity? It seems inconceivable that such an apology could reconcile with his fans, nor should they be the central focus of his remorse. I believe that apology videos were once meaningful. In the past, they provided creators and businesses with a platform to sincerely acknowledge their actions and take tangible steps toward reconciliation. However, the once-significant value of apology videos has been completely eroded. It appears that anyone can now produce an apology video for even the most heinous actions, utter a few words of regret, and move on without genuine accountability.

Whether or not the video actually garnered respect from Combs’ fans is virtually irrelevant; the real danger lies in the fact that he believed such a video could potentially work. If individuals like Combs believe that issuing an apology video, regardless of sincerity or accountability, can absolve them from the consequences of their actions or rehabilitate their image, it sets a troubling precedent. If we live in a world where public figures can simply release a scripted apology video as a PR tactic without facing real consequences or undergoing meaningful change, it undermines the concept of taking responsibility for one’s actions and perpetuates a culture of superficiality and insincerity. Additionally, when apology videos become a routine response to controversy, they lose their authenticity and impact. Viewers become desensitized to these apologies, making it easier for public figures to exploit the format without truly addressing the harm they’ve caused. In short, the evolution of the apology video sends a troubling message about accountability in society.

Ventura’s lawyer captured the essence of the situation: “Combs’ most recent statement is more about himself than the many people he has hurt. When Cassie and multiple other women came forward, he denied everything and suggested that his victims were looking for a payday. That he was only compelled to ‘apologize’ once his repeated denials were proven false shows his pathetic desperation, and no one will be swayed by his disingenuous words.”

OP-ED: The Age of Online Apology Videos (2024)


Are celebrity apology videos effective? ›

"For the last few decades, we've been in what some scholars call 'the 'Age of Apology'." As apologies have evolved into a kind of tacit agreement between public figures and the public, Schumann argues they've actually become less effective, even if they're served directly to fans on social platforms.

What is the best thing to say in an apology? ›

How to apologize genuinely
  • Acknowledge the offense. Take responsibility for the offense, whether it was a physical or psychological harm, and confirm that your behavior was not acceptable. ...
  • Explain what happened. ...
  • Express remorse. ...
  • Offer to make amends.
Dec 21, 2023

What are the 4 steps of a sincere apology? ›

So here are four important steps that you can follow to make a sincere apology:
  • Say the Magic Words: “I am sorry” and “I apologise”. ...
  • State what you are sorry for. ...
  • Repair the relationship. ...
  • State that you will never make this mistake again.

How do you say a deep apology? ›

Take Responsibility

Saying, "When I said [the hurtful thing], I wasn't thinking. I realize I hurt your feelings, and I'm sorry," acknowledges that you know what it was you said that hurt the other person, and you take responsibility for it. Don't make assumptions and don't try to shift the blame.

Are apologies worth it? ›

Apologizing re-establish dignity for those you hurt: Letting the injured party know that you know it was your fault, not theirs, helps them feel better, and it helps them save face. Apologizing helps repair relationships: By getting people talking again, an apology makes them feel comfortable with each other again.

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