WhatsApp Founder’s Late Apology

Not a day passes without some big apology for bad behavior or a dumb choice of words by politicians, celebrities, executives and athletes. Making a public apology has grown into an art form and appears to be the stalwart strategy for stemming the criticism that subsequently reverberates in the media and social spheres.

The latest example comes from the president of that for-profit Dallas Hospital whose stupidity precipitated the histrionics around Ebola in the U.S.:

“As an institution, we made mistakes in handling this very difficult challenge.”

Ya think?

Invariably, a PR professional will take the lead in crafting such statements, often alongside legal counsel, depending on the nature of the gaffe. The goal is to sound as contrite as possible in order to avert legal action and quickly put to bed the growing chorus of negativity wafting in media and social spheres. More often than not, however, the contrived statement has less of an impact than does the simple passage of time, and the inevitable displacement by another, more colorful news controversy.

WhatsApp Founder Jan Koum
WhatsApp Founder Jan Koum

Today, we’re witness to one newly minted billionaire’s public apology for something he did more than 20 years ago when he was just 18 or 19 years old. WhatsApp founder Jan Koum issued a statement for his threatening behavior against an ex-girlfriend back in 1995-96.

“I feel I was irrational and behaved badly after we broke up. I am ashamed of the way I acted, and ashamed that my behavior forced her to take legal action. I am deeply sorry for what I did.”

As far as public apologies go, this one was one of the more heartfelt ones I’ve read. WhatsMore, Bloomberg News included a bonus supportive quote from a Facebook PR person in its coverage of the contrition:

“‘Jan has written a thoughtful and honest response that we believe demonstrates the sincerity of his remorse over what happened nearly two decades ago,’ said a Facebook spokesman.”


So why now? Mr. Koum recently consummated the sale of his mobile app to Facebook for $22 billion, giving him a personal net worth of $7.4 billion. The company’s  new status as part of a publicly traded entity (NASDAQ: FB), makes it beholden to many more “publics.”  Better to embrace and explain, before someone else learns about it and does it for him.

As for Mr. Koum and the Facebook PR/legal team that helped craft the apology, I predict they will succeed in their efforts to make short shrift of this past transgression. Also, this doesn’t hurt:

“The woman couldn’t be reached for comment and her mother, when reached by phone and in person, declined to comment.”


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