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Attack At YouTube Offices Brings Company's Content Policy Into Question

Apr 4, 2018
Originally published on April 5, 2018 10:50 am
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

More information is coming to light about what led to the shooting yesterday at YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, Calif. Three people were wounded and the shooter, a woman, died from a self-inflicted gunshot. She appears to have been motivated by her anger at YouTube. NPR's digital culture correspondent Laura Sydell joins me now to discuss the latest. And, Laura, let's start with the shooter. Since you and I spoke yesterday, we've gotten some details. We've gotten a name.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Right. Her name is Nasim Aghdam, and she was 39 years old from Southern California. Police say they had actually gotten a call from her family before the shooting because she'd been missing for several days. And police found her sleeping in her car not far from YouTube headquarters the early morning of the day of the shooting.

Police say they actually questioned her. She told them she was up there looking for work. They ran her license plate and, in fact, discovered that the family had been looking for her, called the family, the family says they called them back and here there's some dispute. The family says they warned the police that she was very angry at YouTube. The police say that they didn't hear anything about that and they spoke with her for 20 minutes and didn't notice a gun or anything of the sort.

KELLY: I want to ask you more about the possible motive at play here in a second, but first, would you give us a quick update on how the victims are doing?

SYDELL: Yeah. There were three shooting victims who were taken to Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital yesterday. Two of them were women, a 32-year-old, who was admitted in serious condition, and a 27-year-old, who was admitted in fair condition. And according to the hospital, both have now been released. The third victim, a 36-year-old man, has improved from critical to serious condition, but he is still in hospital.

KELLY: OK. Now this question of motive because police are saying they believe she was motivated because she was upset with YouTube. How firm is that link?

SYDELL: Well, it looks pretty firm. Aghdam had a YouTube channel from which she made money from ads running against her content, and her channel was a mix of videos about topics like animal rights, vegan eating, exercise videos to music. Some of the videos were in Farsi. But there are some videos where she explicitly expresses anger at YouTube. Apparently YouTube had actually put an age restriction on her workout videos and limited it to people who were 18 or above. And she started to make less money, she says, got fewer views on her channel. Here's a clip from a video that appears to be Aghdam speaking, saying what - you know, that YouTube really wanted to censor her views.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NASIM AGHDAM: This is what they are doing to weaken activists and many other people who try to promote healthy, humane and smart living. People like me are not good for big businesses like for animal business.

KELLY: So she's saying - she's accusing YouTube of trying to weaken activists like her, of trying to censor or filter her in some way. What do we make of this complaint?

SYDELL: Well, this is a pretty extreme example of - and very troubled example - of anger at YouTube that a lot of creators on the site have been complaining about. They recently changed a policy about what kinds of videos qualify to get ads run against them and how they rank videos and search results. And YouTube is in a tough position. They're trying to keep violent, hateful content off their site and keep the platform as open as possible. And every day, there are millions of videos being uploaded to this site. The company's tried to balance the right of people to express themself with complaints about violent, objectionable videos, fake news, Russian propaganda. And, you know, all the social media companies now are facing this same dilemma.

KELLY: That's NPR's Laura Sydell. Thanks very much.

SYDELL: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.