In the digital age, formal methods of communication are disappearing one after another — after all, emailing and texting have already begun replacing letters and phone calls. Though advances in technology do bring a host of benefits, they also enable other developments that are less admirable — in particular, the online social media apology.
Public confessions of remorse have been reduced to half-hearted efforts to patch up reputations after people spew offensive comments. Just this past Thanksgiving, Republican staffer Elizabeth Lauten, the communications director for Rep. Stephen Fincher of Tennessee, openly criticized Sasha and Malia Obama on her Facebook page for their dress and demeanor at the annual White House turkey pardoning ceremony. Lauten crossed ethical lines.
“Dear Sasha and Malia, I get you’re both in those awful teen years, but you’re part of the First Family, try showing a little class,” Lauten wrote. “Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar. And certainly don’t make faces during televised, public events.”
Adding to the offensive comments, Lauten went as far as to turn the two girls into political targets when she added, “Then again, your mother and father don’t respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter, so I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the ‘good role model’ department.” In one blow, Lauten discredited both the Obama girls and the president in a demeaning manner. Posting it on Facebook for the world to see turned a tactless snark into full-blown malice.
What’s more ridiculous, however, is Lauten’s attempt at an apology after receiving backlash for her rude statement. According to USA Today, Lauten resigned on Monday following her harsh comments. Her decision doesn’t change the fact that the apology she put online before her resignation announcement was insincere. In yet another Facebook post, she admitted that she had “judged the two young ladies in a way that [she] would never have wanted to be judged [her]self as a teenager,” and that she would like to “apologize to all of those who [she has] hurt and offended with [her] words.” Her post might seem heartfelt, but the lack of personal apology is evident. Beyond the fact that it was done through social media — a platform that lacks an element of personal touch and assumption of responsibility on Lauten’s part — her confession doesn’t even address the two girls directly, whom her comments had offended, ramping the insincerity up a notch. As Elisa Doucette pointed out in Forbes, one simple acknowledgment would have made all the difference in the world: “Instead of apologizing for a post about Malia and Sasha Obama, Lauten needs to treat them like they are human beings deserving of her compassion and respect, rather than puppets to dance around in political battles.” If Lauten had addressed the two girls and personally apologized to them, then the rest of social media, which is still railing on Lauten for her comments, might back off.
In fact, an apology sans social media — perhaps face-to-face — would have been most appropriate. Heide Cohen, writer for the Actionable Marketing Guide, believes that social media apologies aren’t sincere enough: “While Twitter and other social media platforms can distribute your words of regret quickly, widely and painlessly, generally it’s best if the person who misspoke apologizes directly to the wronged party as soon as possible in as personal a way as possible.” By apologizing over social media, it was clear that Lauten’s apology was driven more by fear of backlash from the community than by regret over what she actually said about the sisters.
Though many people have social media blunders, the necessity for personal apologies is paramount. Without them, we will forget the appropriate way to apologize. Without genuine apologies to those wronged over social media, there can be no sincerity.
Chelsea Hernandez is a senior majoring in English (creative writing). Her column, “Foot in Mouth,” ran Wednesdays.