Image by Anemone123
Whoa, calm down there! Who do you think we are—Buzzfeed? Well, guess what? Someone on the internet did something offensive, and the internet has feelings about it. People are offended. We are back in the sixteen hundreds, and we are braying for the blood of that evil sinner who dared to say the Offensive Thing. What did they say? Students are offended Professor Jordan Peterson isn’t calling them by their obscure, irrelevant gender pronoun. Dove’s latest advertisement is apparently racist. A woman daring to ask how to make her family’s lunchtime sandwiches more tasty is worthy of mob incitement. Saying “father of daughters” is sure to get the lynch mob on you.
When the internet has feelings about something, these members of the internet lynch mob will not stop until they have an apology from the offending party. It doesn’t matter how minor your screw-up is, you will will receive threats and people threatening to have you fired (or actually have you fired) until you apologize. Regardless of whether your infraction is as minor as asking for sandwich toppings, or more major like saying you “wouldn’t even rape” a prominent feminist politician, you will receive the same punishment. Ostracism and constant harassment until you apologize.
So the offending party apologizes, and all is good. The internet settles down and waits until the next person says something offensive.
Wrong. This is the internet, where nobody accepts your apology. If you apologize, you are clearly more guilty than ever, not someone who simply wants to move on from their bad mistake. It is a non-apology, and you are faking it for sympathy, which clearly you don’t deserve, because anyone who is slightly offensive is clearly just a neo-Nazi in sheep’s clothing. By the way, people on the internet love calling those they disagree with Nazis, even if the person is more left than Josef Stalin.
In an outrage culture, people are never satisfied with apologies. Take the recent Dove controversy:
The comments are full of people buckling down on their disapproval of Dove, chucking any Dove branded products into trashcans and down the sink, accusing them of systemic hatred of black women, and claiming anyone who doesn’t have a problem with the ad is inherently racist. Regardless of whether you agree with Dove or not, you have to admit their apology just led to more hatred of the brand. And this is not the only time this has happened. Jacob Geers sums up this outrage culture well:
People do bad things. They should be called out. People should take responsibility, they should learn, they should grow. Sometimes they should be fired. People should be held to high standards, and should be told when they don’t live up to them — brands and companies even more so.
But why in this digital age is redemption not possible? Why in this digital age must everyone die upon their crosses, and not carry them? Why can we so often not accept an apology, and why is the suggestion that outrage culture is shredding our empathy met only with accusations of victim-blaming and vitriol?
This is predominantly a problem among the Social Justice Left, though the Right are not immune from this problem. The problem is that more people and organizations take the Social Justice Left seriously than the Alt-Right, contrary to popular belief. This fringe radical element of the Left has a lot of influence, enough influence that even making a minor infraction is enough for them to have you fired, doxed and fearful of repercussions.
Apologizing to those in this Outrage Culture does not work. You are only opening yourself up to more harassment, even if it seems easier in the long run. You might think they’ll accept your apology and move on, but this will never happen. Outrage is the ongoing economy on the internet, and an apology only shows weakness. An apology should only be made if you’ve done something truly reprehensible—like asking for someone to be raped or murdered, or actually committing a crime. Making a slightly offensive advertisement, or making a sandwich for your husband and children, or accidentally saying a nasty word once-off: these shouldn’t be responsible for ruining people’s lives.
When asking a relatively harmless question gets that person harassed off a college campus, you have to worry if you’re the problem instead of them. If that person appears to be remorseful, or if their infraction is so minor it doesn’t even matter, who cares?
It is impossible to please outrage warriors. Why not make like Tina Fey who, in 2014, stated she was “opting out” of the internet’s apology culture? Naturally, comments sections were full of furious people incensed that Fey dare not apologize. However, unlike those who do apologize for their minor infractions, Fey’s words have been long forgotten.
Sometimes your apology may be considered offensive and lead to another apology. Sometimes apologies are necessary. However, most of the time, what is said is so inoffensive it doesn’t warrant an apology, and the whole internet just wants to freak out.
How about we opt out of this apology culture unless absolutely necessary?