The YouTube apology video has become an exercise in insincerity

Whenever video creators on the platform make mistakes, their apologies ring hollow

Tilottama Barua
Published : 3 Feb 2023, 01:30 PM
Updated : 3 Feb 2023, 01:30 PM

Have you ever caught yourself in the YouTube Apology Spiral, where you keep watching tons of videos of content creators apologising for their mistakes with no idea how you ended up that way? If you are anything like me, you get lost in the YouTube rabbit hole and find the videos funny instead of sincere. Why are these videos funny? Their insincerity.

The crocodile tears of the Youtube Apology have become so common that people are even cosplaying the concept. The apology video is such a part of our zeitgeist that an LA-based public relations professional named Hunter Frederick went on the record to advise, "The key to a good apology video is authenticity and owning up to the mistakes made. It also helps, in the YouTube sense, to turn monetisation off so it doesn't look like a cash grab. Bad apology videos are longer than 10 minutes and overly emotional videos tend to get lost with the viewers."

I am not ashamed to admit I have watched hours and hours of apology videos. There's something inherently fascinating about them, which is why they rack up so many views. But almost all of the ones I've seen are pretty emotionally manipulative.

The only exception, in my opinion, is Jenna Marbles, who made a 47-minute video that genuinely took accountability for her lack of knowledge of how to take care of a fish and her 12-minute video acknowledging the racist things she had done in the past.

Jenna's apology videos felt genuine because she did not try to make excuses for her behaviour. She reflected on how her behaviour was problematic, owned up to it and vowed to do better. I don't know her personally, but from what we can see of her behaviour since the video, she did what she promised to, even when it meant leaving her channel to reflect on how she could move forward.

On the other hand, most of the apology videos I've seen have several tell-tale signs of emotional manipulation. A huge one is excessive crying. There are compilation videos online where people edit down an apology video to just the tears; sometimes, it covers two to five minutes!

These videos are edited and the editors could cut out the extensive crying if they wanted to. It's OK to acknowledge that talking about something sensitive made you emotional, but to showcase full minutes of you sobbing when you're supposed to be taking accountability seems like weaponising tears to gain the sympathy and forgiveness of your audience.

Unlike the Jenna Marbles video, many apologies also heavily dodge responsibility, often placing it on a third party or appealing to the fallibility or imperfections of humans. It feels incredibly duplicitous when the apologiser follows up with a public charity move that is obvious damage control.

These videos rarely give us the sense the apologiser will change their behaviour. The apology is performative and motivated solely by self-preservation.

What we can learn from this phenomenon is something we often overlook in our own lives. How often do we clash with a family member, friend, or partner who keeps perpetuating the same problematic behaviour and repeating it? Sometimes we do it ourselves.

An apology without sincere intent and action to fix the root of the problem is just publicly ''taking an L'' so the other person shuts up and doesn't keep talking about it. Whether intentional or not, insincere apologies are manipulation.

Many people have faced this issue. We have seen relationships where someone chronically cheats but always promises it will never happen again. We see family dynamics where parents promise to show up and support their children, only to fail repeatedly. They always ask for forgiveness and just one more chance.

People are not inherently bad, not even those who engage in this behaviour. It is rare to meet people who are intentionally trying to cause harm. But sometimes, intent matters less than the impact.

To put forward a genuine apology requires willingness - the willingness to examine ourselves and the issue at hand, to allow our defences to fall, to listen to the victim, and most importantly, to put in the effort to change.

We all have biases, behaviours, and patterns that can cause conflict or hurt. But we can choose how to react when confronted with our failures. Integrating our mistakes and their lessons into our lives will determine how genuine we are when we say that we are sorry and promise to do better.

This article is part of Stripe,'s special publication focusing on culture and society from a youth perspective.