Sorry Not Sorry: The Mislabeled Trope of the YouTube Apology


Dumpster fire though it may be, the Internet is still able to bring us moments of serendipity. Like when two wholly separate and seemingly unrelated pieces of content drop in the same week that combine and transcend the original intention to form a meta-narrative; the social media equivalent of Barbenheimer.

Hindsight being 20/20, history will see the rise of the YouTube Defense subgenre as the natural and inevitable evolution of the YouTube Apology Video. In actuality, this was a revelation that the two genres were one of the same, made possible thanks to the incongruous combination of a Jenny Nicholson Patreon exclusive and a video on X made by TikToker Madi Hart’s father.

To some extent, we’ve always known YouTube Apologies – already an outdated misnomer, as they can be posted to any platform nowadays – to be disingenuous as a genre. We never read lists of the “Best Apology,” after all. But that we accepted some basic core premises – of who made them, their ostensible purpose, and the desired outcome – in the same way we understand the aesthetic conventions of reality TV? That speaks to a larger misunderstanding of what the words “I’m sorry” were ever meant to convey. (See also: Donald Trump campaigning on a platform of losing court cases.)

So what defines an Apology Video? The form is mostly understood when a canceled or controversial influencer picks up a camera, explains some current drama arising from either on or off-camera behavior, issues a “Sorry if your feelings were hurt,” and outlines how they’ll be changing their behavior going forward. It may vary in its sincerity and self-awareness; the number of deflections, recriminations, or defensiveness couching the actual mea culpa. The only common thread would appear to be that being famous on the Internet will eventually necessitate one

Apology videos can be delivered with tears, studied seriousness, or with the flat affectation of someone being forced to read a book report out loud. It can be a song, a poem, part of a makeup tutorial, or an interpretive dance (though those rarely go well). There may be a promise of time spent away from the Internet for reflection, or an offer that one is “open to listening/ having a discourse.” It may look like Colleen Ballinger’s “hi.,” or Logan Paul’s “So Sorry.” But we understood the Apology to contain at least three universally accepted truths:

1) They were made by Influencers (or people with influence, like celebrities);

2) Their purpose was to mitigate harm done to their personal-professional brand (which, for influencers, are all but synonymous) by accusations of wrongdoing;

3) That, however hollow or wooden or delusional the statements rang, the video would be some measure of public accountability for said wrongdoing.


But if you hold up these criteria to the most well-known and viral YouTube Apologies, as Jenny did in a recent ranking for her monthly Patreon series (sorry, I can’t post the link, but you should really subscribe to her anyway for her monthly rambles), almost every well-known example of an Apology video fails in at least two, if not all three, of the above criteria. 

Take the post made by the father of TikTok star Madi Hart, who we recently covered in our newsletter. Prompting “What’s a piece of trauma you have that’s actually funny?” Madi revealed that her father had left the family when she was young to pursue fame as a breakdancer. Hart’s TikToks often include direct or indirect swipes at her family: conservative, religious, and intolerant. Madi’s description of a deadbeat dad who refused to pay her medical expenses and was rarely in the picture is, to the best of my knowledge, one of the kinder assessments she’s made of someone with whom she shares blood.

Though it’s certainly understandable that someone could take offense to this portrayal, the response from Madi’s father on X was as illuminating an example of the apology phenomenon as it was a bizarre subversion of them: appearing in a Bitcoin t-shirt, Ben Hart spoke with a genial lisp about his love for his daughter, her creativity and her sense of humor. He projected nothing but sincerity while contradicting his daughter’s account of her childhood and their relationship, the discrepancies of which he attributed to her youth and the murky understanding of divorce we give to children for their own protection. He broke down facts with hard numbers: the amount he’d given his ex-wife to support his four children ($5 million), the percentage he was responsible for the divorce (70), how far he’d lived from the children (one mile). He then proceeded to breakdance in an empty room decorated with two flags: one American, one Bitcoin. And finally: “The main point is…. there’s really no excuse for anyone not to be breakdancing.” 

Needless to say, this should really never be the main takeaway from any public apology from anyone except John Lithgow’s character in “Footloose.” It’s so far from the point that it actually proves Madi wasn’t being hyperbolic when she said Ben abandoned her for breakdancing; he literally abandons responding to her to go breakdance for clout. (She’s since made several videos responding to his response.) It’s blatant, bizarre, and weirdly, almost believable. If you don’t think too hard about it, Madi’s dad comes off the sympathetic party here. 

But like Miranda Sings, this was an apology video only on surface viewing. It failed all three of the big performance metrics:

1) Mr. Hart was not famous, nor did he have any social following or influence to speak of;

2) The point of the video, as evidenced by the final minutes of bizarre showmanship and his enthusiasm when Elon Musk responded to it, was not damage control but self-promotion;

3) At no point was it ever clear that this guy was, in fact, sorry. Not even the “Sorry that my daughter feels this way” non-apology way.

The point of this isn’t to arbitrate the upbringing of a social media star and her fame-hungry father but to illustrate the underlying misconception we have: that YouTube Apologies share any common ground with the act of apologizing. Maybe they come from the same desire to explain one’s actions, but rarely on the Internet do we hear someone expressing actual remorse for the hurt they’ve done someone. If only because to truly atone for a malicious act of online Influence, it’s not enough to make a public statement or even delete your accounts. It would require something we as your audience can’t see you doing: a privatization of the apology.


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Udemy is running a site-wide sale until Thursday, and they’re offering steep discounts on courses for creators, like “On-Camera Charisma For Youtube Stars” and “Secrets of Top Youtube Channels.” There’s plenty for experimenting with AI if that’s your thing, or if you prefer more “analog” vlog production, you can learn how to do that too. Shop the whole catalogue, courses start at just $12.99 for a limited time.



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