How has public apology changed with the advent of new technology and social media?
Not only has technology changed the way people apologize, but it has also functioned to increase the overall number of apologies. I recently completed (with my colleague Dr. Matt Barton) a fairly comprehensive content analysis of over four hundred apologies from the past century and discovered that the sheer number of apologies is on the rise. Our sample contained 554 apologies between 1920 and 2000 and 1,584 apologies after the year 2000.
Are people in the 21st century more socially deviant than previous generations? I don't think so. I think that technology has placed a spotlight on offensive behaviors. It's simply harder to get away with things than it used to be. Technology, particularly social media, has also changed the way people apologize. For example, public relations professionals have to be bothered that they craft careful messages for their clients only to find that the client posts contradictory (and much less polished) statements on Facebook or Twitter. This certainly occurred with Kanye West after he grabbed the microphone from Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. West was contrite in his interview with Jay Leno where he said, "It was very…it was rude, period. And, you know, I’d like to be able to apologize to her in person, and, you know, I’m going to do that.” However, on his Twitter feed, he posted: "I’m sorry to my fans if I let you guys down! I’m sorry to my friends at mtv. I will apologize to taylor 2mrw. welcome to the real world! everybody wanna booooo me but i’m a fan of real pop culture!"
So clearly social media apologies look different from traditional apologies offered in interviews and press releases. Some argue they are more authentic because they do not come from the public figure's "handlers," and I would agree there can be great value in this level of authenticity. However, the strategies on social media must be consistent with other released statements and these public figures are sometimes too emotional to be able to objectively determine which strategies are the best choice for repairing their images.