- A woman shot three people, then herself, at YouTube’s California headquarters on Tuesday.
- Police identified the shooter as 39-year-old Nasim Najafi Aghdam from San Diego.
- Aghdam’s father said she had often criticised YouTube for apparent censorship, and she complained online that videos she posted didn’t make much money from ads.
- There is no justification for Aghdam’s actions, but the shooting comes only two months after YouTube implemented policies that made it harder for smaller creators to make money from their videos.
- Smaller creators, angry at the new rules, have called the policy “demonetisation.”
- YouTube has to strike a difficult balance between policing its content and keeping creators happy.
Police identified a 39-year-old woman who shot three people and herself at or near YouTube’s headquarters in California as Nasim Najafi Aghdam of San Diego, California.
Aghdam had a strong online presence with multiple YouTube channels, websites, and social media accounts dedicated to her various interests: bodybuilding, vegan activism, crafts, and free speech. As of Tuesday night, all of her social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube were suspended.
A website, nasimesabz.com, is still live.
According to Aghdam’s father, she had strongly criticised YouTube for apparently censoring her videos online.
There is, clearly, no justification for Aghdam’s actions. But she referenced an ongoing debate about major changes to YouTube’s policies over the last two years. And the shooting directly illustrates how tough it is for YouTube to implement substantial changes to a site where anyone – including criminals and conspiracy theorists – can post content and gain a significant following.
YouTube has tightened up its rules and made it tougher for creators to make money over the last 2 years
Through a series of rule changes, YouTube has made it more difficult for some creators to make money from their videos over the last year.
The site changed its rules in February so that creators needed at least 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours in watchtime in order to continue making money from ads against their videos. Small creators at the time complained it would be difficult to meet the new threshold. Minority creators also felt they would be disproportionately affected by the changes. They new rules are widely referred to as YouTube’s “demonetisation” policy.
YouTube also tightened up its rules around appropriate content and hate speech after a series of outrages including:
- YouTube star PewDiePie using the “n” word in a video;
- The Times uncovering disturbing videos of children, as well as hate speech;
- YouTube promoting conspiracy theories after the Las Vegas shooting;
- and Logan Paul posting footage of a dead body in Japan’s suicide forest.
Finally, YouTube is trying to crack down on spammy, low-quality videos.
All of this means that YouTube has become more proactive when it comes to downgrading promoted videos that might be offensive, adding age-restriction filters, and removing ads from offensive or poor-quality videos.
The changes inflamed creators such as Aghdam who already harboured suspicions that YouTube was censoring them in some way.
Try typing “YouTube censorship” into YouTube’s search box, and you will come across an entire conspiracy theory subgenre. Ironically, creators ratchet up tens of thousands of views with videos complaining they are being censored in some way. Usually, it is right-wing commentators, who are actually pretty prominent on the site.
One video that shows up prominently on that search is by vegan activist channel Bite Size Vegan. It is titled “I’m Being Censored – YouTube’s War Against Vegans” and shows activist Emily Moran Barwick claiming that YouTube added age restrictions to one of her videos because it contained graphic footage.
Aghdam, who claimed to be vegan, links to this video from her web page alongside complaints that her content had also been “filtered” to stop them getting views. Since Aghdam’s channels are now deleted, Business Insider was unable to verify whether her content had indeed been restricted. According to BuzzFeed, she had claimed videos showing her exercising had been age-restricted by “close-minded” YouTube employees.
The incident is a sobering reminder that popular platforms like YouTube generate strong feeling among their users, and that outrage over high-level decisions can be intense. The platform has millions of users, and a small number are extremists or mentally ill, and that outrage reaches them, too. To date, YouTube and other tech firms have tried to avoid policing content posted to their platform – and Tuesday’s events make it easy to see why.
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