It started the day after the US presidential election with one student posting a picture of himself on the Internet holding up a sign reading: "Sorry world [we tried] -- half of America."
Within just a few days, a Web site set up by James Zetlen, www.sorryeverybody.com, had 27 million hits, he said.
The site features more than 2,200 pictures of contrite Americans holding up placards expressing their sorrow at the victory of George W. Bush. There are 1,000 more pictures waiting to be posted.
"It was mind-boggling the amount of emotion the Web site has triggered," says the 20-year-old neuroscience student who attends the University of Southern California.
Not all of the emotional responses have been positive, however. Zetlen's site for rueful Americans has spawned at least eight Web sites for people who say they're not at all sorry that Bush beat Democratic candidate Senator John Kerry.
Zetlen noted, however, that the reaction from outside America has been overwhelmingly positive.
"The international community is absolutely mortified at what has happened," he said.
About half of the more than 3,000 e-mails he received came from abroad. The worldwide reaction included responses from Germany, France, Italy, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada, South Africa, Senegal, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Chile, Brazil, China and South Korea.
The German daily newspaper Der Spiegel wrote about the Web site and the French daily newspaper Liberation called the number of penitent people "impressive."
All the pictures share a common theme, asking forgiveness of the world for the re-election of Bush.
"Sorry everybody, the inmates are running the asylum. AGAIN! Please don't hate half of us." "Dear World. We are so sorry! It makes no sense to us either."
One man's sign reads, "This one of the 55,902,001 American that voted against Bush would like to apologize for the 59,422,689 idiots who did."
Several talk of leaving the US.
"We are so sorry that we are moving to your country." One man is holding up an SOS distress call. spelled out in Morse code. Another pictures a toddler wearing a T-shirt saying, "If I could vote, I'd vote against Bush." One picture shows the American eagle with the words, "Sorry everybody."
Some non-Americans have posted supportive photos and messages on the site. Stefan from Germany says, "On behalf of my country I accept your apology. I know you tried hard."
Another message from Michael in Germany reads, "If you were intelligent enough to vote for Kerry you don't have to say sorry. P.S. We've made mistakes too."
Zetlen explains his motivation on the site: "Rarely do people on the Internet apologize. I thought it was high time. The world needs to understand that there are people in America who don't like what our government is doing. And from the mail I'm receiving, there are people in the international community who appreciate this," he said.
Opposition Web sites include www.notsorryeverybody.com, which has a graphic depicting the official seal of the US Democratic Party with a baby crying in the middle.