As the U.S. government struggles to tackle issues of gun control and free speech, prominent businesses are taking action. Following the notorious Parkland High School shooting in Florida, Dick’s Sporting Goods announced they would cease selling firearms to customers below 21. YouTube has started removing any and all videos containing firearm usage.
It’s not difficult to find the nearest gun store, but it’s significantly harder to gain a substantial following on a video-sharing website besides YouTube. There are alternatives, but few of them are particularly compelling–no other video-sharing site has managed to maintain free and virtually unlimited bandwidth.
As such, YouTube currently holds significant sway over our Internet habits. That means when Google demonitizes and filters out videos that previously awarded its uploader(s) some revenue for allowing advertisements to play, the channel cannot migrate to another platform without losing the majority of its followers.
Enter Nasim Aghdam, a small-time social media icon and vegan activist whose YouTube videos were being systematically demonetized and effectively censored by Google without warning or reason. This San Diego local, interviewed once in 2009 by the San Diego Union-Tribune at a PETA protest, is the woman who went on a shooting spree at YouTube’s headquarters in San Bruno on April 3. Aghdam injured three people before taking her own life.
The circumstances of this shooting are bizarre–to think that a 39-year-old woman who supported herself via YouTube ad revenue would become so unhinged as her source of income was gradually eroded is almost unimaginable. The videos Aghdam uploaded prior to her rampage protested what she viewed as “the peaceful tactic used on the Internet to censor and suppress people.”
Many of these videos can be found on the Internet with relative ease, but the original uploads on YouTube disappeared the evening of the shooting–in fact, Aghdam’s four channels have been removed entirely. Meanwhile, all but one of the YouTube videos of Elliot Rodger, the perpetrator of the 2014 Isla Vista killings, remain intact online in their original format.
It’s almost as if Google is attempting to cover up their tracks. While it would be outrageous to apply blame to anyone besides the terrorist herself, what does YouTube think it’s accomplishing by doubling down on the subtle censorship that apparently helped drive Aghdam to madness in the first place?
Most regular social media users have been aware of Google’s ongoing demonetizing spree for several years now, but their choice to filter out certain content without warning or reason paints them as an enemy of proponents of the First Amendment. Their recent decision to take down all gun-related videos also pits them against advocates of the Second Amendment.
While these are private companies and it is their right to censor their webpages how they choose to, the ubiquity and massive scale of their platforms makes it seem like a violation of our first amendment rights.
I don’t believe YouTube, Facebook or any of the various Silicon Valley tech companies understand or even desire to understand the primarily-American populace they serve. The U.S. was founded upon rebellion and stubbornness, and it is still deeply ingrained in the psyche of our people. Efforts to subtly control Americans’ thoughts and habits are bound to go the wayside.
Riordan Zentler is a senior majoring in journalism at PLNU.