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Why Did Shooter Nasim Aghdam Have a Vendetta Against YouTube?

Nasim Aghdam injured three people before taking her own life at YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, California.

  • We now know some details about Nasim Najafi Aghdam, the woman who opened fire at YouTube headquarters on Tuesday, April 3rd.

    Three people were taken to the hospital with gunshot wounds, though thankfully, no deaths were reported. As is typical with shootings in public places, there were initial reports of multiple shooters, a man wearing body armor, and dozens of victims — none of which ended up being true.

    What we do know is that Nasim Aghdam was a 37-year-old woman from San Diego who was reported missing by her family the day before the shooting. She had accounts on multiple video and social media platforms, including YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and DailyMotion. She posted content on a variety of subjects, from veganism and animal rights, to exercise, to freedom of speech.

    It’s clear from her website and video content that Aghdam was angry at YouTube for what she perceived as slights against her channel. She posted screenshots of analytics from YouTube to her website in an attempt to show that the platform had recently suppressed her videos and prevented her from earning money on the platform. It even led her to suggest that speech in the U.S. is less free than it is in the Middle East.

    Now, contrary to a lot of what you might be reading online, Aghdam was not a Muslim, nor was she a recent immigrant to the United States. She moved to the U.S. from Iran with her family in 1996 when she was a teenager and was a member of the Bahá'í Faith. But religion was not a central focus of any of her channels.

    Her website was much more focused on activism surrounding the treatment of animals, and on the way she felt YouTube was being unfair to her channel.

    The issue of monetization has been a big issue for a few years now for all of us who post content on YouTube. Though there are many more detailed explanations out there about how this all works, here’s a quick primer. Some videos you’ll watch on YouTube have ads before them, and the channel creator gets a small piece of that advertising revenue — this is how many creators make a living.

    In 2016, YouTube changed its policy on which videos could have ads played before them, after major advertisers like Amazon, Coca-Cola and others, pulled out of the program after discovering their commercials were playing before videos that showed violence, hate speech, and other stuff they really didn’t want to be associated with.

    YouTube, and most of the creators on YouTube need advertisers in order to keep putting up videos. So, YouTube updated its algorithm to automatically remove ads from videos it deemed “Not Advertiser Friendly," and some channels have definitely been impacted more than others.

    You may or may not agree — but it makes sense why YouTube would make that decision. And this is what’s being referred to as the Adpocalypse.

    It’s clear from Aghdam’s videos that she felt she had been unfairly targeted by the newer algorithm. Aghdam’s father, Ismail, told police that she hated YouTube, and even informed them that she was likely heading to the company’s headquarters when he reported her missing on Monday. Her brother told reporters: “She was always complaining that YouTube ruined her life.” But when police found her sleeping in her car early Tuesday morning, they told Ismail that she had been found and everything was “under control.”She had legally purchased a Smith & Wesson 9mm semiautomatic handgun the morning before the shooting from a local gun range.

    Obviously, ad revenue on YouTube will continue to be a prominent issue for online creators, but actions like Aghdam’s, resorting to violence against innocent people, is completely unacceptable in our society.

    Our hearts go out to those who likely had the most frightening day of their lives on Tuesday. We also hope everyone who was injured makes a full recovery and are so thankful that this event wasn’t even more devastating, as so many recent shootings in the U.S. have been.

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