Yesterday, Youtube’s headquarters in San Bruno, California were attacked by a gunman wielding a legally purchased 9mm handgun. The assailant—39-year-old San Diego resident Nasim Najafi Aghdam—shot three individuals, all of whom survived, before fatally turning the gun on herself.
While reports initially circulated that Ms. Aghdam had attacked Youtube in search of a spurned lover, police have concluded that she was motivated by a grudge she held against Youtube, believing the site had demonetized the videos she posted in an effort to silence her vegan, anti-capitalist message.
The self-described “artist” had been single-handedly producing videos for four channels she ran on the popular platform: one for Farsi-speaking audiences, one for Turks, and one in English, along with a channel about hand art.
Together with links to these videos, Ms. Aghdam’s website, nasimesabz.com, (which, while up earlier today, is currently offline) featured links to other Youtube channels which either also spread vegan messages, or which—like one of Casey Neistat responding to “Adpocalypse”—featured complaints of Youtube’s monetization methods.
In addition, she posted short diatribes against Youtube and its alleged suppression of “truth.” In “the real world,” she said, “there is no free speech.”
There are also screenshots of her own Youtube profile highlighting her declining viewership and falling AdSense payments. In one, she circles two figures—300k views and a payment of just $0.10—asking how that is possible.
Aghdam also appeared to disdain popular culture at large, linking to a video of InfoWars’ Paul Joseph Watson lamenting its vapidity. In another, a text-to-speech program warns of the dangers of anal sex.
Unsurprisingly, InfoWars host (and conspiracy theory aficionado) Alex Jones weighed in on the attacks, suggesting Youtube had—through its “censorship”—brought the tragedy upon itself.
“This is what happens,” he said, “[when] you take artists and you take their material and then you use them to build your organization up….and then you censor it.”
Jones himself had been embroiled in controversy with Youtube just weeks earlier, when it was reported by Breitbart that numerous advertisers—including Nikon, Expedia, and Alibaba—had suspended their ad buys after being contacted by CNN journalists for comment on why they supported his inflammatory programming.
Youtube has, in the past, admitted to potential mistakes in their purges of inappropriate content. As they sought to ramp up enforcement of their guidelines in early 2018, rapidly hiring content monitors to do so, they told The Verge that “newer members may misapply some of our policies resulting in mistaken removals.”
Most of the complaints—including a lawsuit filed in October by PragerU, a media source which, among other things, has argued that the view that Western civilization is not morally superior to every other is a result of “intellectual laziness”—come from conservative-minded sources. However, progressive causes have also raised concerns, particularly after a host of LGBTQ+ vides discussing questions of intimacy and inspiration were placed under Restricted mode.
The courts, meanwhile, have decided to remain mum.
Last week, PargerU’s case was thrown out by a federal judge in California. While PragerU hoped to paint Youtube as a “public forum,” thereby making their apparent censorship of content an abridgment user’s First Amendment rights, the judge disagreed.
Despite “operat[ing] their private property as a forum for expression of diverse points of view,” the judge wrote, the Defendants (Youtube’s shareholders) “are private entities who created their own video-sharing social media website and make decisions about whether and how to regulate content that has been uploaded on that website.”