Why no one believes celebrity excuses on social media anymore

by

Leah Carroll

At a concert in the European country of Georgia, rock band The Killers found themselves in the middle of a decades-long political conflict.

On August 16, vocalist Brandon Flowers invited a Russian fan on stage and asked the audience to treat him like a “brother.” The request was met with immediate boos and even abandonment of the place; the backlash continued after the show.

The following day, the musicians issued an apology on social media via X, formerly known as Twitter.

They wrote: “We recognize that a comment, intended to suggest that the entire audience and fans of The Killers are ‘brothers and sisters’, may have been misinterpreted. We did not intend to upset anyone and we apologize.”

This social media apology came the same week that Tiffany Gomas apologized on Instagram for delaying an American Airlines flight.

Members of the cast of the reality show Below Deck: Down Under have apologized on their individual networks for sexual harassment that occurred during filming of the current season.

In a world centered on social media, apologies have become mandatory. Increasingly, the public is demanding retractions from both celebrities and CEOs to address a range of wrongs, such as mass layoffs, extramarital affairs, use of racist or hateful language, or even criminal activity.

It’s a change from the world of sterile press releases from advertising agents. Instead, public figures now use social media to convey their contrition.

They intend for these apologies to reach their audiences wherever they are — be it Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, X, or even LinkedIn — with the hope that the platforms will help emulate the bona fides of a face-to-face mea culpa.

However, some experts say that this practice has changed our relationship with apologies: both the way we give them and the way we receive them. This change is not always positive and often makes these displays of remorse ineffective.

‘SORRY’ GOES SOCIAL

“The era of everything being filtered through public relations is over,” says Marjorie Ingall, co-author with Susan McCarthy of the book Sorry, Sorry, Sorry: The Case for Good Apologies. apologies, in free translation).

She’s been tracking public apologies on her website SorryWatch since 2012. Now, she says, it’s extremely common to use social media to apologize, because it’s “the great leveler.”

After a show in Georgia, The Killers apologized via X

After a show in Georgia, The Killers apologized via X – Getty/BBC News Brazil

Ingall says these platforms allow public figures to respond to broad audiences while evoking a feeling of intimacy with their fan bases. The medium also allows the apologizer to act quickly, often without any large-scale interventions from a corporate public relations team when the news cycle moves at lightning speed.

Karina Schumann, associate professor of social psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, in the United States, considers that social networks have helped to create an environment of accountability – this happens because they have created a great awareness of what public figures say and do all the time.

This happens “largely because everything about people’s lives is so public,” she explains. “Because of that, I think there’s less formal procedure around these apologies, and they’ve become almost an everyday thing.”

Schumann says public figures have transferred their “apologies” to social media because winning back a fan base is often the quickest and most strategic way to save their reputations.

“They’re taking this to the public through this mechanism as a way of trying to win back public approval and redeem themselves,” she says. “And because they want it to feel personal, social media seems like an appropriate or appropriate medium for communication.”

In fact, apologies on social media have become so common that Schumann created an “apology filter” for his email. “Every day something comes up about some celebrity, politician or public figure who made mistakes and apologized, refused to apologize or issued, more often than not, a terrible apology,” she says.

THE ‘AGE OF EXCUSES’

In addition to allowing public figures to respond quickly to an integrated network of followers, social media apologies also take advantage of the ease of sharing that traditional media outlets lack. However, Schumann believes this ease of distribution has also created an expectation that it will be a standard for celebrities to apologize — even a new part of the social contract.

Schumann explains that even 20 years ago, apologies in the public sphere were rare. “They became really normative, frequent and expected. It wasn’t as common to see companies apologizing for various scandals or private matters that went public,” she says. “Over the past few decades, we have lived through what some experts call ‘the ‘Age of Apologies’.”

As apologies have evolved into a kind of tacit agreement between public figures and the public, Schumann argues that they have actually become less effective, even if they are directed at fans on social platforms.

“There are factors that prevent these apologies from being seen as sincere. When they were very formal, I think they were generally met with a lot of skepticism because they were seen as insincere and in response to public pressure to apologize,” she says. “I don’t think the social media apology will change that. The public knows these celebrities and CEOs are apologizing to their fans, but they are apologizing to their sponsors and other stakeholders.”

This becomes a kind of apology overload, with one post after another increasingly devaluing the act of apologizing, a concept known as “normative dilution.”

The intimate nature of social media can work against celebrities in some cases, believes pop culture critic Zarinah, who uses her first name professionally. She writes the Weekly Work newsletter and runs the popular CultureWork TikTok account, which analyzes viral pop culture moments.

As public figures use social media as a strategic way to build their brands, they struggle to “embrace that sense of closeness and authenticity that audiences and fans expect, especially on an app like TikTok,” she says. So while it may seem like they are interacting with fans on a personal level, Zarinah believes these moves are careful marketing. When they need to make up, the effect can be calculated or meticulously selected.

“Even if someone posts 15 times a week and you feel like you know Lizzo or Bethenny Frankel, you’re still part of their performance,” she says. Celebrities cultivate parasocial relationships with fans — non-reciprocal relationships, in which the fan believes they know the creator personally — but they tend to have difficulty making an apology seem authentic, says Zarinah.

“Whenever the time comes for an apology,” she explains, “[os fãs] learn that the relationship they thought they were building with a celebrity on social media… isn’t real at all.”

APOLOGIES AND ‘THANKS’

Singer Lizzo released a statement on Instagram after being named in a lawsuit accusing her of creating a hostile work environment

Singer Lizzo released a statement on Instagram after being named in a lawsuit accusing her of creating a hostile work environment

Singer Lizzo released a statement on Instagram after being named in a lawsuit accusing her of creating a hostile work environment – Getty/BBC News Brazil

As ineffective as experts say press releases are, they also agree that social media apologies may not be much better — if at all.

First, the sheer volume of apologies based on the public’s growing expectations for them can render them ineffective.

Public figures are generally doomed to fail, no matter what they say, Schumann believes. Words of remorse have become so normative that influencers will gain nothing from their posts, she says. However, people who don’t apologize will lose even more, as the public notices the absence of an apology as much as it demands it.

With the influx of public apologies, people have become more skeptical — and smarter with prepared notes, says Zarinah. In her coverage of pop culture, she analyzes the effectiveness of a public figure’s statement.

She deducts points when they make what she calls “an acknowledgment,” in which the person essentially admits that a misstep was made and they played a role in it, but never say “I’m sorry” to someone they may have harmed.

Ingall has a rating system: “Bad Excuse Bingo Cards.” It is there that she takes note of phrases carefully written to avoid any admission of guilt, or those whose overuse she has rendered largely meaningless. She points to examples like “I’m a father of daughters” and “I was young back then and things were very different.”

Still, social media apologies may not be completely useless. Ingall believes these posts can serve as a teaching tool — she says it’s important to realize that despite apology fatigue, some words are genuine. “I don’t want us to have apology fatigue, because that’s a very important thing for human relationships.”

This text was originally published here.

Source: Folha

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