Yesterday, YouTube experienced its first shooting in the workplace. Four days after leaving home in San Diego, a 39-year-old woman named Nasim Aghdam snuck into YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, California, with a gun, shooting three people before killing herself. We do not know what led Aghdam to commit his crime, whether mentally unstable, previous violent episodes or that he was forced to commit his crime by a tangential fact, but it is clear that he had strong feelings about YouTube. According to his family, he hated the service after his channel was demonetized and the police enumerated their rancor as the main motivation for the shooting.
One day after the incident, most of what we know about Aghdam comes from his YouTube videos. They were knocked down immediately after the attack, but scraped versions found their way out, most of which were music videos or exercise tutorials. The most widely shared video shows how he exposed his complaints to YouTube: the moderators had a video of abdominal exercises restricted by age because it was too provocative, but he found many more provocative videos that had not been restricted. She was furious. It did not seem fair.
Most of what we know about Aghdam comes from his YouTube videos
It is disturbing to observe now, partly because the content itself is very familiar. If you spend time on YouTube, you will see many videos like this one. As long as the company has moderated videos, YouTube users have been complaining about it. Strike-based moderation means that YouTube users are often restricted or demonetized instead of being kicked out of the platform altogether, which makes it easy to attract their audience and explain how their livelihoods have been questioned . The next step is usually a video that announces that they leave the platform completely, driven by arbitrary moderation and a strong hand. Following the shooting, the most extreme speakers are now going through the Aghdam video as a signal that they were right from the start.
In some way, this type of chafing is inevitable. YouTube is a massive platform, and the moderation system is based on a combination of user indicators, algorithms and hasty judgments by workers who do not always have time to consider the nuances. Balance that against an army of budding celebrities, often making small fortunes from their videos, and some conflict is inevitable. It has become a staple of YouTube's culture, and until this week, there was no indication that it could become violent.
It's monstrous to blame the shooting for the moderation of YouTube, but the Internet has no shortage of monsters
In many ways, moderation is the most important thing YouTube does. Two weeks before the shooting, the platform updated its policy on gun videos, promoting a backlash from channels such as TheGunCollective, which had created hundreds of thousands of outreach and video creation subscribers. When YouTube was criticized for altering children's content last year, it responded with more aggressive age restrictions for videos deemed inappropriate, the same mechanism that angered Aghdam. All these were positive movements for YouTube, a sign that the platform is beginning to take responsibility for its impact on users and the world in general. But those movements are made at the expense of the owners of the angry channels, who are never happy to see their videos restricted or directly prohibited. As YouTube takes on more responsibility for more problems, reigning in the community becomes a bigger and bigger task.
To be clear, Aghdam is solely responsible for what he did, and it is monstrous to blame the shooting for the moderation of YouTube, but he has not stopped everyone. Certain corners of the internet are already painting Aghdam as a victim of YouTube's censorship regime, trying to exploit the shooting to resolve old quarrels. The hashtag #censorshipkills has taken off in the corners of the upper right corner, adjusting the shooting to the existing complaints against the moderation policies. The National Rifle Association has also intervened, fresh out of its fight against YouTube's gun policies. Yesterday, in a broadcast, one of the correspondents of the group explained the shooting saying that the company's moderation policies had "opened [ed] to a large amount of hatred".
The problem is also much deeper than political complaints. Like most platforms, YouTube's success depends on its users. They create the videos and the culture that make YouTube such an interesting place. YouTube employees must keep that community happy, but they must also shape it, guide it away from misinformation, exploitation and hatred. When it started this week, it was quite difficult to simply shape that community without driving it away. Now, horribly, unexpectedly, they have to be protected from that too.