How to apologise like a social media star – art and culture


Dismiss, defend or deny: In May, TikTok star Faizal Siddiqui received widespread flak for a video that seemed to normalise acid attacks. Then he made things worse. His statement, issued on Instagram, claimed the video was misread — the liquid he was throwing on a woman who’d rejected him was water, not acid. His account remains suspended.

Makeup YouTuber Jaclyn Hill lost more than fans. When it turned out that her new line of lipsticks had hair, mould and spots on them, she outright denied the claims, attacking reviewers online. Not a good look. The complaints just got louder, sales dropped, causing her to delete all of her social media.

Apologise badly: Hill finally filmed an apology video, blaming factory workers, whose cloth gloves she said left fibres on the lipsticks. It sounded so bizarre, customers weren’t even satisfied with refunds. In a later video, Hill called it the greatest mistake of her career, “I was so confident that I was almost cocky.”

Another awful apologiser? Beauty influencer James Charles. When he was accused of being racist, transphobic and unprofessional by a fellow influencer in 2019 (causing him to lose 3 million subscribers), Charles responded with a video of his own. Dressed down, fake-crying, it pissed off his remaining subscribers. He deleted it, posting a 41-minue more-camera-friendly contrition a week later.

Explain your explainer:Internet fans know that “I’m sorry, but…” is not an apology. They like when you admit the error and acknowledge your privilege. They want to know how their outrage has affected their idol. Consider the video put out by Indian TikTok account CarryMinati in May. The account, run by Ajey Nagar, posted a TikTok vs YouTube video that went viral, but was disabled after the content was found to contain homophobic slurs. “Growing up all I ever wanted to do was make videos,” Nagar’s clarification video said. He urged followers not to jump to conclusions, as he had not yet received official word from TikTok on why his account was suspended. The trick worked. He regained views and followers.  

Bring out the ugly crying: Dim lighting, ratty sweatshirt, messy hair, close-up, tears. Apology videos are so common that, at the 2019 VidCon (an annual gathering of social media creators), a child dressed up as one — a giant YouTube screen hanging from his neck, and a box of tissues alongside.

If all else fails, apologise in retrospect: Actor Zoe Saldanha did, two years after darkening her face to play singer Nina Simone in the biopic Nina. She initially defended her choice, telling the press that she didn’t want to wait for the ‘right’ Black actor for the part; that it was more important for the story to be told. The film was panned. It flopped. And Saldanha has flip-flopped. She recently said that someone else should have played Simone.

And you can get famous from it too: James Charles now hosts the competition show Instant Influencer on YouTube, training enthusiasts for social-media stardom. One challenge he sets them is to make a successful apology video that doesn’t antagonise comment-communities further. “Take this from me because I’ve had to deal with this,” Charles warns. So if the next few apologies sound templated, you know where they’ve come from.



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