Mark Zuckerberg Apologies to Families Spontaneously

I’ve noted in these blogs how difficult it is to make a public apology. Yesterday Mark Zuckerberg offered an apology that was not only public, it was spontaneous – and compelled (at least, I presume he did not see this coming). Mr. Zuckerberg was testifying in a Senate child safety hearing attended by family members whose young relatives had been harmed by social media, including FaceBook, owned by Zuckerberg’s company, Meta. Senator Josh Hawley asked if Zuckerberg had ever apologized to the families, and when Zuckerberg hesitated, Hawley asked if he’d like to do it right there. So Zuckerberg stood up, turned around to face the crowd behind him, and spoke:

“I’m sorry for everything that you have all gone through. It’s terrible. No one should have to go through the things that your families have. This is why we invest so much, and are going to continue doing industry-leading efforts … to make sure that no one has to go through the types of things that your families have had to suffer.”

I doubt that this statement brought any comfort to those family members. It isn’t even quite an apology. It’s an acknowledgement that something terrible happened, and that the speaker feels sorry for them. It also talks about efforts to improve things in the future. But there’s no responsibility, no admission of anything specific that the speaker did to cause the victims harm.

What did impress me – especially because it was spontaneous – is what he didn’t say. He didn’t downplay the families’ pain – instead, he mentioned it more than once. He didn’t suggest that they should be blaming other sources and not him. He didn’t offer explanations or excuses. Public apologies often fall apart because they wander into one of these danger zones. He avoided those.

A little over a year ago, Zuckerberg issued a public apology when he laid off a few thousand Meta employees. I was impressed with that apology because he took ownership for the problem without offering a defense (“I got this wrong and I take responsibility for that.”) (see my post of November 12, 2022) Public apologies are hard to do. Mark Zuckerberg keeps getting opportunities to remind us of that.