Sorry, the Internet Doesn’t Care About Apologizes

BY Cristen Conger / POSTED February 7, 2013
Hammerbrook - City can this really be true?
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The Internet doesn't care when you say "I'm sorry." (butupa/Flickr) The Internet doesn’t care when you say “I’m sorry.” (butupa/Flickr)

In late January, mom blogger Janine Kovac experienced what happens oh so often when you express your opinion (some would say not very eloquently) on the Internet: the Internet bites back. And hard.

Over at Role/Reboot, Kovac, a mother of twin micro-preemie babies, wrote an open letter to her fictional friend Doris who’s “in her mid-30s and thinks of herself as a career woman. She knows the clock is ticking. She says she’s not panicking yet, but we know better—she’s freaking out.” Kovac then goes on to tell Doris that she’s more ready to start popping out kids than she thinks she is and encourages her to take the scary leap into parenthood, advice which isn’t all that terrible — except that Kovac also compares Doris to a kindergartner who can’t see past her own iPhone to the world around her, which would be a whole lot better with children in it. Rather that tick off a laundry list of Kovac’s shortsighted editorial choices, her subsequent Internet nickname “Sanctimommy” sums them up pretty well.

Even though the post doesn’t say much of anything new in the parenting advice tug-of-war that takes place online everyday, Kovac’s self-righteous, snarky tone drove the piece viral. And not in an “everybody squee over this adorable kitten photo” viral. More like, check out this “bunch of condescending hee-ho from the mom that’s obviously based on her own biased mom experience,” as Jezebel blogger (and mother) Tracy Moore snapped back. Out of the 700+ comments the post has received, a quick scan indicates that a majority are similarly fuming.

A couple weeks after the din died down, Kovac reappeared. This time on Salon and apparently contrite, as evidenced by her followup blog title, “Dear Internet: Sorry about that motherhood post.” Kovac insists that she understands how she came across as sanctimonious and learned a tough lesson about how not to express opinion, courtesy of online vitriol. And while public apologies certainly require humility, it only made me wonder whether it even mattered at all at that point. Does the Internet care when you apologize? Slate’s Jessica Grose, in response to the apology, declared, “First off, it’s pretty useless to apologize to the Internet. The Internet doesn’t care.”

I second that.

Take from a podcaster who’s been tackling controversial, polarizing topics (like parenting!) for the past four years on Stuff Mom Never Told You. If people don’t like what you have to say, you’ll hear about it in angry emails, comments, tweets, Facebook posts, and even old fashioned word of mouth. Attracting haters is simply part of the online game these days, and on the up side it quickly thickens the skin. The thing is, when messages get mangled online, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to press the reset button, take words back and adjust the public’s negative perception. The Internet’s collective attention span is too fleeting, and Google holds enduring grudges, often serving up the viral moments of negativity at the top of the its search results because it just so happens that the controversial usually ranks much higher than the pleasant or mundane.

Case in point: search “Janine Kovac,” and the Salon apology letter is nowhere to be found on the first page of results, essentially rendering it invisible.

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