The US has produced a culture of celebrities apologizing, which applies in particular to entertainers and politicians.
A sense of history always helps us to understand contemporary phenomena. Wired has published a scathing article on Facebook culture, reminding us of Mark Zuckerberg’s penchant for apologizing over the past 14 years. The pattern has been clearly established. He apologizes, though less and less promptly, promises a fix and then waits for the next occasion for a new fix. Could it be an addiction?
Here is today’s 3D definition:
A carefully worded strategic statement allowing public personalities to strengthen their image and position in such a way as to increase their ability to get away with more serious mistakes in the future
1) “I apologize for any harm done as a result of my neglect to consider how quickly the site would spread and its consequences thereafter.” (2003)
2) “This was a big mistake on our part, and I’m sorry for it. We really messed this one up.” (2004)
3) “Somehow we missed this point with News Feed and Mini-Feed and we didn’t build in the proper privacy controls right away. This was a big mistake on our part, and I’m sorry for it.” (2006)
4) “We simply did a bad job with this release and I apologize for it. I’m not proud of the way we’ve handled this situation and I know we can do better.” (2007)
5) “We just missed the mark. We heard the feedback. There needs to be a simpler way to control your information. In the coming weeks, we will add privacy controls that are much simpler to use” (2010)
6) “Personally, I think the idea that fake news on Facebook, of which it’s a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea.” (2016)
7) “Calling that crazy was dismissive and I regret it. This is too important an issue to be dismissive.” (2017)
8) “This was a breach of trust and I’m sorry we didn’t do more at the time.” (2018)
Note that in number 5, Zuckerberg makes a promise rather than an offering an apology, though it still sounds apologetic, and in number 6 he expresses regret rather than contrition. Perhaps by 2016 he felt he had made one apology too many and that he needed to change his style. That would explain why, after such a major scandal as the one that broke around Cambridge Analytica, it took him five days to make any kind of statement, and the apology initially appeared in the form of an ad — i.e., a professional PR operation.
The US has produced a culture of celebrities apologizing, which applies in particular to entertainers and politicians. Here is how Matthew Rozsa summed it up in a 2016 article in Salon:
“First there is the collective outrage and consequent shaming from social and traditional media alike. This is followed by the celebrity’s insistence that (a) he or she doesn’t really hold those despicable views and (b) they are genuinely contrite for anyone who may have been offended or hurt by their remarks; and finally, more often than not, the public moves on after having added a metaphorical asterisk next to the reputation and/or legacy of the famous person in question.”
Zuckerberg’s case is different because his apologies concern not his own acts, but the behavior of the company he founded and controls. It’s also different because he’s a multi-billionaire and belongs to the astronomically wealthy class that normally doesn’t have to apologize because the level of admiration they achieve allows them to brush things off without showing any formal regret. Donald Trump is the brightest (though not the wealthiest) star in that constellation.
Many would say Zuckerberg has more direct power over more people’s lives than Trump, especially as there is no four-year limit on his term of office. That explains why, for many people, this has become, in some ways, a more serious issue than Trump’s lies and shenanigans, while also providing a convenient explanation of how he actually got elected.
Having said that, we now apologize in case we have offended anyone at Facebook or in the 2-billion-strong Facebook “community,” including its CEO.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
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