Earlier today, San Bruno police said a woman who shot three people at YouTube headquarters yesterday was probably motivated by anger on the platform. The family of 39-year-old Nasim Aghdam, who died of a suspected self-inflicted gunshot wound, said he complained that YouTube "ruined his life." On a personal web page, he wrote that "there was no freedom of expression in [the] real world," and that YouTube intentionally suppressed his videos on veganism and animal rights. Aghdam's evidence for this claim of individual censorship was limited: YouTube had taken out ads from some of his videos and put one behind an age restriction filter. But in the midst of a broader debate about how YouTube should treat its users, some people are blaming YouTube for provoking Aghdam, portraying her as a martyr for the cause of freedom of expression.
"Nasim was a victim of these companies 'political activists' like @YouTube," says a tweet in the recent hashtag #CensorshipKills, populated significantly, but not exclusively, by apparent right-wing accounts. "A SILENT VOICE IS A DANGEROUS THING". I was only off Twitter for 12 hours and I felt violent, "says another." So … are we learning that removing freedom of expression leads to violence? "Asks a third, some tweets include dramatic representations of the shooter with the eyes and the mouth cut with the name of the hashtag.
These are small accounts, and, as with many hashtags, #CensorshipKills is driven by people who criticize the hashtag. But the figures of greater profile express a similar feeling. In the NRA television network, for example, one correspondent claimed that YouTube's decision to "censor content here and there, in any case, actually exposes them to liability, and exposes them to a lot of people's hatred. of all the world". News media such as InfoWars and Drudge Report have put more weight on the idea of YouTube censorship than on the actual shooting, with headlines such as "YouTube being attacked for censoring freedom of expression" and "Oppressive YouTube censorship policies extend to violence ", which says how YouTube itself is committing violence.
Many people legitimately discuss the problems that supposedly motivated Aghdam. Their claims echo the widespread complaints that YouTube users are being demonetized and leaked by videos that reduce their reach and financial success. YouTube has admitted that this is a real problem; Last year, he said he had changed his tagging algorithm to restrict fewer videos. There are also people who complain that YouTube takes strong action against specific topics or points of view. The human moderators of YouTube allegedly marked accounts and right-wing videos that did not violate the rules of the site, and a conservative group sued him for demonetizing their videos. (The claim was rejected last month).
But Aghdam subscribed to a particularly extreme and conspiratorial version of that theory, in which YouTube intervened specifically to prevent certain videos from getting too many views. Even beyond the fact that we have no solid evidence of Aghdam's direct motives, there is also a difference between saying that a shooter was motivated by a problem and suggesting that his attack was a logical or inevitable response to him.
YouTube moderation is a tense topic, and yesterday's shots will probably make it even more sensitive. There are also real questions about the relationship between YouTube and your community. But this narrative, which effectively portrays YouTube as the aggressor in a violent incident, may end up being lost as well.