Our Apologies, But We Must Discuss Apologies

Thom Weidlich 11.17.22


We’ve entered a period of multiplying corporate apologies. Partly, it’s due to layoffs stemming from what some say is an impending economic downturn. Yet this crop of mea culpas is being met with particular cynicism. This is especially so of apologies on Twitter.

New Yorker writer Jill Lepore has a new article, “The Case Against the Twitter Apology,” in which she explores the sorry state of apologies and our new habit of rating them. Lepore mentions ones from recent years including Equifax’s CEO for a data breach and Papa Johns for a racial slur. Being an historian, she also goes into the ancient history of apologies.

Lepore quotes Susan McCarthy and Marjorie Ingall, who track public apologies at their SorryWatch website and have a book coming out next year entitled Sorry, Sorry, Sorry: The Case for Good Apologies. “There are a lot of awful apologies out there,” they said. “Apologies that make things worse, not better.”

That’s because so many apologies are defensive and make excuses. Lepore lists the good advice of rabbi and author Danya Ruttenberg for approaching an apology: “naming and owning harm,” “starting to change,” restitution, apology and making different choices.

Twitter Medium

Part of the problem with Twitter apologies is the medium itself, Lepore writes. The platform is designed for demanding and rating apologies, and piling on if they’re deemed not good enough. “On Twitter at its worst, all harm is equal, all apologies are spectacles and hardly anyone is ever forgiven,” she writes.

We’ve seen a spate of apologies lately from tech leaders, especially involving new layoffs. These apologizers include Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook parent Meta Platforms (“I got this wrong”) and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey (“I grew the company size too quickly. I apologize for that”). Meghan Bobrowsky highlighted these admissions in The Wall Street Journal (“It’s the New Saying Among Tech CEOs: I Apologize”).

And then there’s Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of Bahamas-based crypto exchange FTX, which filed for bankruptcy on Nov. 11. Bankman-Fried was particularly attacked for his 22-tweet thread the day before. “I’m sorry,” he began. “That’s the biggest thing.”

Um, probably not the biggest thing.

Like Dorsey, Bankman-Fried said he expanded his business too quickly.

Crafted Statements

Law360 reporter Sarah Jarvis quotes several lawyers not connected to the FTX case saying it’s a bad idea to tweet out defensive statements on the way to the courthouse. We concur. While putting out a carefully crafted statement makes sense, Twitter screeds are probably not the right format. For one thing, anything you tweet can and will be used against you in a court of law (civil or criminal).

Bankman-Fried eventually seemed to understand this (or was mugged by the advice of counsel). His penultimate tweet contained this: “I WAS NOT VERY CAREFUL WITH MY WORDS HERE, AND DO NOT MEAN ANY OF THEM IN A TECHNICAL OR LEGAL SENSE; I MAY WELL HAVE NOT DESCRIBED THINGS RIGHT.”

He has since come out and said he regrets filing for bankruptcy. Oh, well.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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