Tech leaders need to innovate on their apologies. But given the state of the internet, is a meaningful mea culpa even possible?
If you’re feeling a bit uneasy right now, you’re not alone. It’s the end of not just a year but a decade, and we’re not exactly closing on a high note. There’s more misinformation than ever, climate change is putting the future of humanity at risk, devices are eroding our privacy, and the police are happily tagging along at each and every step. What happened to the internet we were promised at the beginning of the decade, the one so full of creativity, connection, and joy?
It was squandered, as many writers have pointed out, by engineers and CEOs who opted for profit over people at every turn with seemingly no consequences. As these people’s role in creating a physical and digital world built on surveillance, harassment, and child labor has become more clear, we’ve seen a wave of pseudo apologies for the tools and decisions that got us here. For the past few years, the men (and it’s almost entirely men) who built this digital hellscape have been on a veritable atonement tour.
Chris Wetherell fessed up to the RT button on Twitter’s being perhaps a bad idea. Facebook co founder Chris Hughes admitted that Facebook had become too powerful. Another former Facebook employee, Sandy Parakilas, admitted that the company had no real interest in protecting user data. Ethan Zuckerman took credit, and blame, for his role in building an ad-supported internet (and coding the first popup ad). Guillaume Chaslot, a former YouTube engineer, revealed just how bad and biased the site’s algorithm has become. Loren Brichter, who helped invent the infinite scroll, made his regrets public. Even Mark Zuckerberg uttered the words “I’m sorry” in congressional testimony.
Yet none of it feels satisfying. Perhaps it’s because many of these apologies only happen when these men have something else to promote, like a book, a TED talk, or a new company. (Writer Audrey Watters has termed this lucrative side business the “regrets industry.”) Perhaps it’s because most of these men are still incredibly wealthy, thanks in large part to the decisions they’re theoretically apologizing for. Perhaps it’s because, Zuckerberg aside, they almost never actually say the magic phrase that every child learns: “I’m sorry.” Or perhaps it’s because it would be impossible for one person to apologize for the current state of the internet.
Let’s start by laying out what separates a good apology from a bad one. Writer Lux Alptraum, the author of Faking It: The Lies Women Tell About Sex—and the Truths They Reveal, has thought (and written) a lot about this question. She suggested a three-part test for these techpologies. “A good apology says, number one, ‘This was bad, I recognize this was bad, and you are perfectly within your right to be hurt and angry and upset.’ Number two, a good apology says not just that harm was caused but that the harm was someone’s responsibility. And, ideally, number three, it shows growth and commitment to repair.”
It turns out that when you look at the apologies offered by the architects of our technological present, they often fail at least two of these three things.
Number one: The apologizer must recognize the harm done. Some techpologies do this well. Chaslot, the former YouTube engineer who built the platform’s recommendation algorithm, has tweeted about how that algorithm specifically impacted public understanding of things like the shape of the Earth, which is not merely subject to silly (and false) conspiracy theories but has also been connected to the murder of over 600 teachers by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Parakilas, one of the contrite former Facebookers, wrote that if the company isn’t regulated, “nothing less than democracy is at stake.”
Other times, apologizers are vague about the actual impact of their work, or they focus on their initial goals rather than the outcome. The Chris Hughes “regreditorial,” for example, never actual states the harm Facebook has done beyond saying very generally that “the News Feed algorithm could change our culture, influence elections and empower nationalist leaders.” (Unlike Parakilas, Hughes won’t go so far as to say that Facebook threatens democracy, only that it “could” have “influence.”) Justin Rosenstein, a former Facebook employee apologizing for inventing the “Like” button, told The Guardian, “It is very common for humans to develop things with the best of intentions and for them to have unintended, negative consequences.”
Then there’s apology criterion number two: Take responsibility for the harm that you’ve just acknowledged. Those who do this almost always speak from a place of remove—as former employees who, years later, look back and safely regret their role in all of this. And even here, there’s a catch. In most cases, the people apologizing don’t really deserve the full credit or blame for the technology in question. Even if a piece of software or hardware were invented by one person alone, its use and deployment would never be a singular decision.
Chris Wetherell, who was profiled by BuzzFeed as “The Man Who Built the Retweet,” cannot take sole responsibility for the impact of this button. Wetherell seems to know this: In his Twitter bio, he clarifies that he “Only *HELPED* build retweet.” Though Zuckerman, now the director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, has apologized for his part in building an ad-supported web, he also can’t take responsibility for an entire business model. “The notion that I invented anything is just absurd,” he told me. “It was a shitty decision and a shitty move, but it wasn’t exactly a move of technical brilliance. There’s no way I can take responsibility for the harms or benefits of the web as a whole.”
Yet to hear an apology coming from a brand isn’t likely to feel satisfying either. For all their horny tweets, brands are not people, and people may be inclined to feel that corporate communications reflect cold, calculated PR rather than true and genuine emotion. When Uber spent $500 million apologizing for everything from the CEO’s connection to Donald Trump to allegations of gender bias and sexual harassment, the campaign failed to change most people’s minds. Even Zuckerberg’s apology to Congress felt more like a faceless Uber ad than a real person’s reckoning with his sins. “Either you over-empower individuals and give them too much credit, which is what happened to me,” said Zuckerman, “or you have people who really are that powerful and then you’re perhaps not dealing with a human being anymore so much as you’re dealing with a media brand.”
Here is perhaps where journalists should fess up to being part of this problem. We love a personal redemption story, even if it’s ultimately toothless. By allowing individuals to take responsibility for the digital mess we’re in, the media perpetuates the “great man” myth. This not only misrepresents how technology is built and deployed, it impedes discussion of meaningful solutions and progress. When journalists overstate one person’s role in creating the problem, we also overestimate their ability to fix it.
Take Tristan Harris, for example, who has made a second career out of warning people about the perils of “attention stealing” systems. His argument is that he was once the problem, and now he can be the solution. This is a narrative that journalists love: This very publication called Harris “part Don Draper, part Carrie Mathison, and part John Nash as portrayed by Russell Crowe.” But Harris can no more be blamed for “attention stealing” writ large as he can be expected to fix it single handedly.
This brings us to the third part of the three-point test: showing some kind of meaningful action toward repair. I think this is where many tech apologies feel unsatisfying to the consumers who are living with the consequences. Because almost none of these people who trot out their apologies can, on their own, repair the harm done. “You should be able to ask someone who’s apologizing for something to undo it,” says Zuckerman. “Part of what’s so unsatisfying is the thing they’re apologizing for isn’t undoable.”
In some cases, it’s unclear whether those expressing their misgivings and regrets are even trying. Many still work for companies within this ecosystem, gathering a steady and probably lucrative paycheck while slamming their former employers. Parakilas, who has called out Facebook for data harvesting, went from Facebook to Uber, and now works at Apple. Rosenstein, who helped implement the “Like” button at Facebook, and who has spoken up about the addictive nature of said likes, co founded a company that “improves office productivity.” “These people are getting status and money and clearing their conscience, but the rest of us aren’t getting anything but the recognition that we live in a fucked up world,” says Alptraum.
For his part, Zuckerman is working to fix the problem he helped create. He’s currently working on imagining and building a new way of thinking about the web—one that looks more like a public good than a private-monopoly-run product. “I don’t feel like I have the solution. What I do think is that everybody who is critiquing platforms is thinking way too small. They’re thinking about small tweaks to a system that is pretty badly broken. What we actually need is a much better vision of social media that is actually good for us as citizens in a democracy. ”
It’s also possible that it’s too soon to judge any of these apologies. Changing an entire system takes teams and years of work. “The apology has to be the start of a process, and maybe the reason an apology feels unsatisfying is that they feel like the end of the process,” says Zuckerman. “If the apology is the first step, then maybe we appreciate the apology five, 10, 20 years later. Some of these apologies are insincere, some are inappropriate, and some just aren’t there yet. We have to give people the time to see.”
Perhaps my desire to see a meaningful apology for our current digital hellscape is wishful thinking. It might, in fact, be impossible to properly apologize for any of this. (In fact, some research hints that apologies are always better when we imagine them than when we actually receive them.) But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. “Maybe the apology is the first step in trying to think about doing that affirmative, forward-looking work,” Zuckerman told me.
So this December, I’m channeling a sentiment that several celebrities have lately shared on Instagram earlier this year: “I don’t want to end this year on bad terms with anybody. APOLOGIZE TO ME.”
Rose Eveleth is an Ideas contributor at WIRED. She’s also the host and producer of “Flash Forward,” a podcast about possible (and not so possible) future scenarios, and has covered everything from fake tumbleweed farms to million-dollar baccarat heists.
Hunter Biden bought a 2.5 million dollar Hollywood hills home in June for $14,000, but won’t pay child support. Biden bought his Los Angeles home earlier this year at a deep discount. A screenshot of the Zillow listing for Biden’s LA house, which is estimated to be worth nearly $2.5 million also shows it sold for $14.000, that’s a 99.5 percent discount! The three-bedroom, three-bathroom home “sits at the end of a private gated drive and includes a pool.”
Lunden Roberts accused Hunter Biden of refusing to hand over his financial records in their ongoing paternity case. Roberts demanded the former vice president’s son hand over all financials documents from the past five years, and filed papers in Independence County, Arkansas (Clinton country, prior to his presidency Bill served as attorney general 1977 – 1979 and governor 1979 – 1981 & 1983 – 1992) asking the court to compel him to turn over the records.
Roberts met Biden while she was working at Mpire strip club in Washington D.C. and launched her case in May, claiming Biden is the father of her child. A paternity test proved that he is the father of the child.
She wants Biden’s financial records to establish how much he should pay in child support, as well as proving he can afford to pay her $11k legal bill, but says he is refusing to hand over any details. His attorneys filed a motion on December 2 to protect his financial records from public disclosure because of the “exceedingly high” likelihood that they will be used in an “inappropriate and malicious manner.” Biden submitted an affidavit of financial means on Dec. 16, but the document is sealed. Biden has provided no support for this child for over a year.
Roberts’ lawyers say in legal papers that Biden has objected to answering any of their discovery questions, which included confirming the state in which he lives, his phone number and if he worked for Ukrainian oil company Burisma. Roberts, meanwhile, released five years’ worth of her tax returns and other financial documents to the court. The documents list her as having worked for Hunter and his company Owasco PC.
Hunter Biden is the subject of more than one criminal investigation involving fraud, money laundering and a counterfeiting scheme. The allegations accuse Hunter and business associates of establishing ‘bank and financial accounts with Morgan Stanley for Burisma Holdings Limited for the money laundering scheme’.
The allegations were filed by D&A Investigations on Monday in relation to Hunter’s paternity case involving Lunden Roberts. D&A is a Confidential Private Investigative Agency to the Royals, servicing clients, and providing them with continued Identity Protection, throughout the British Isles, Europe and the United States. D&A claimed that the accounts showed a value of nearly $6.8 million between March 2014 and December 2015. In addition, the documents allege that Hunter and three associates attempted to con Sioux Native Americans out of $60 million through the sale of tribal bonds.
Oh yea, and Jesus.
Santa Claus explained by Albert Einstein
There are 7.8 billion people on Earth. Probably about six per family on average, so there are one billion homes. Some of these homes are city apartments twenty feet apart, but the people in igloos or jungle huts or desert tents are more widely spaced, so let’s assume the homes are about a mile apart on average.
Santa has one night to visit them all, we’ll say twenty-four hours because it’s not night everywhere on Earth at the same time. So, he has to fly one billion miles in twenty-four hours.”
He wrote “SANTA = 41,666,667 MILES/HOUR” on his blackboard.
“At that speed, friction with the atmosphere will generate intense thermal energy, and twenty-four hours of that will release enough heat to melt the Earth’s crust.
And the billion takeoffs and landings will cause two billion sonic booms. By December 26, the Earth will be reduced to an endless sea of molten lava and loud noises.”
This is how it will all end? How dare you!
All 5 songs penned by Shel Silverstein.
# 1 – And the Winner is…
Hillary Clinton having a PTSD flashback from landing under fire in Bosnia
Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!
extreme superstition regarding the number thirteen.
A store that sells new husbands has just opened in New York City, where a woman may go to choose a husband. Among the instructions at the entrance is a description of how the store operates.
You may visit the store ONLY ONCE! There are six floors and the attributes of the men increase as the shopper ascends the flights. There is, however, a catch: you may choose any man from a particular floor, or you may choose to go up a floor, but you cannot go back down except to exit the building!
So, a woman goes to the Husband Store to find a husband…
On each floor the signs on the doors read:
Floor 1 – These men have jobs.
Floor 2 – These men have jobs and love kids.
Floor 3 – These men have jobs, love kids, and are extremely good looking. “Wow,” she thinks, but feels compelled to keep going. She goes to the fourth floor and sign reads:
Floor 4 – These men have jobs, love kids, are drop-dead good looking and help with the housework. “Oh, mercy me!” she exclaims, “I can hardly stand it!” Still, she goes to the fifth floor and sign reads:
Floor 5 – These men have jobs, love kids, are drop-dead gorgeous, help with the housework, and have a strong romantic streak. She is so tempted to stay, but she goes to the sixth floor and the sign reads:
Floor 6 – You are visitor 3,261,496,012 to this floor. There are no men on this floor. This floor exists solely as proof that women are impossible to please. Thank you for shopping at the Husband Store.
THE WIFE STORE
Floor 1 – has wives that love sex.
Floor 2 – has wives that love sex and have money. The third through sixth floors have never been visited.
“You need to use ‘big people’ words,” she’d always remind them. She asked Chris what he had done over the weekend. “I went to visit my Nana.”
“No, you went to visit your GRANDMOTHER. Use big people words!” She then asked Mitchell what he had done. “I took a ride on a choo-choo.”
She said, “No, you took a ride on a TRAIN. Use big people words.” She then asked Bobby what he had done. “I read a book,” he replied.
“That’s WONDERFUL!” the teacher said. “What book did you read?”
Bobby thought about it, then puffed out his little chest with great pride and said, “Winnie the Shit.”
After waiting anxiously for quite a while, a rather awkward freshman finally got up the nerve to ask a pretty junior for a dance at the homecoming.
She gave him the once-over and said, “Sorry, I won’t dance with a child.”
“Please forgive me,” responded the underclassman. “I didn’t realize you were pregnant.”
An elderly couple was celebrating their sixtieth anniversary. The couple had married as childhood sweethearts and had moved back to their old neighborhood after they retired. Holding hands, they walked back to their old school. It was not locked, so they entered, and found the old desk they’d shared, where Jerry had carved I love you, Sally.
On their way back home, a bag of money fell out of an armored car, practically landing at their feet. Sally quickly picked it up and, not sure what to do with it, they took it home. There, she counted the money – fifty thousand dollars!
Jerry said, We’ve got to give it back.
Sally said, Finders keepers. She put the money back in the bag and hid it in their attic.
The next day, two police officers were canvassing the neighborhood looking for the money, and knocked on their door. Pardon me, did either of you find a bag that fell out of an armored car yesterday?
Sally said, No.
Jerry said, She¹s lying. She hid it up in the attic.
Sally said, Don’t believe him, he¹s getting senile
The agents turned to Jerry and began to question him.
One said: Tell us the story from the beginning.
Jerry said, Well, when Sally and I were walking home from school yesterday …
The first police officer turned to his partner and said, Were outta here!
My girlfriend told me she was seeing a psychiatrist.
I said tell me more.
She said I’m also seeing a plumber, a carpenter, an electrician, two doctors, three lawyers, and a used car salesman.
Man: “I’m on my way to a lecture about alcohol abuse and the effects it has on the human body, as well as smoking and staying out late.”
Cop: “Really? Who is giving that lecture at this time of night?
Man: “My wife
What do you get when you cross Speedy Gonzales with a country singer? Arriba McEntire
What’s better than a cold Bud? A warm bush.
What do you call a white girl without boobs?
Sunday Terminology: Amen – The only part of a prayer that everyone knows.
Holy water – A liquid whose chemical formula is H2OLY.
Incense – Holy Smoke !
Jonah – The original “Jaws” story
Magi – The most famous trio to attend a baby shower.
Pew – A medieval torture device still found in Catholic churches.
Ten Commandments – The most important top ten list not given by David Letterman.
Jesuits – An order of priests known for their ability to found colleges with good basketball teams.
Sex on the beach – Shoregasm
Sex in a gold mine – Oregasm
Sex on a golf course – Foregasm
Sex with a lion – Roargasm
Sex while sleeping – Snoregasm
Sex with a prostitute – Whoregasm
Sex at the supermarket – Storegasm
Sex with a Norse God – Thorgasm
Arnold Schwarzenegger has a long one
Michael J. Fox has a short one………
Madonna doesn’t have one………
The Pope doesn’t use his……………..
Justin Bieber always uses his…………….
What is it?
A last name. Shame on all you perverts for thinking something else.
What do you call it when two transgender midgets have sex? : A micro trans-action.