Neistat talked about that, and what was wrong with how YouTube handled concerns from the people who depend on the platform for their livelihoods. But more important, he articulated what made the platform — and its people — so special. “What YouTube has in this space that no one else has,” Neistat said, “is this sense of community, this kinship with creators like me, and the platform that is YouTube.”
Nasim Aghdam, the woman who police say went to YouTube’s headquarters to shoot at its employees on Tuesday before killing herself, had embedded Neistat’s video on what is believed to be her personal website. Police said on Wednesday that they “believed the suspect was upset with the policies and practices of YouTube,” and that anger “appears to be the motive for this incident.”
Aghdam appeared to use Neistat’s criticism of YouTube to support her own anger. But her social media presence reveals that what she believed was not what Neistat said. Instead, she promoted a dark, conspiracy-fueled inversion. For Neistat, and many YouTubers, YouTube needed to fix its communication with creators to help the community. In Aghdam’s inversion, she hurt YouTube — and its community — because she believed that she was being personally persecuted.
YouTube and many of its creators have responded viscerally, with shock and hurt:
“It appears that she was angry at YouTube. She claimed her videos were being unjustly age-restricted and accused YouTube of suppressing her videos. I’m disgusted, furious, and heartbroken,” tweeted Philip DeFranco, a prominent YouTuber who, like Neistat, is both one of YouTube’s most prominent faces and critics.
“Not much else to say other than this: I have met dozens of hard-working people from YouTube. They are incredible and kind people who do their best given the situation. They also do a great job most days,” tweeted Boogie2988, another YouTuber who often discusses the company on his channel. In response to the shooting, Boogie also removed his most recent video about YouTube “out of respect for those harmed today and in solidarity with the people who run the site.”
“We are an incredibly tight knit community within YouTube, where it feels like a family,” Chris Dale, YouTube’s head of communications, said. “Today, it feels like the entire community of YouTube and all of the employees were victims of this crime.”
On a website believed to be hers, Aghdam railed against YouTube in a series of screenshots and rants. “There is no equal growth opportunity on YOUTUBE or any other video sharing site, your channel will grow if they want to!!!!!” she wrote. “YouTube filtered my channels to keep them from getting views!” Another portion of her website contains a quote from Adolf Hitler.
Aghdam ran at least four YouTube channels in English, Turkish and Farsi touching on scattered topics, including veganism, exercise, hand art and animal rights. She also ran several other social media accounts, including on Instagram and Facebook. A recent video that appeared to be hers, now removed from Facebook, claimed she was a victim of a conspiracy to censor vegans. “This is what they are doing to vegan activists and many other people who try to promote healthy, humane and smart living — people like me are not good for big business, like for animal business, medicine business and for many other businesses. That’s why they are discriminating and censoring us.”
In another section of her website, Aghdam posted screenshots of her views and revenue from YouTube, and blamed “close-minded YouTube employees” for what she said was a decline in popularity of her channel.
Aghdam’s decision to commit a violent act against YouTube is unique, police say. The anger at the platform, and those who work for it, is not.
Alex Jones, whose main channel has more than 2 million subscribers, is constantly at war with the entire platform — accusing YouTube of unfairly censoring him, having an agenda against conservatives or being on the verge of banning his channel altogether.
In March, YouTube said it would ban videos that promote sales of guns and accessories and prohibit videos that teach viewers how to assemble firearms. The move led gun enthusiasts to accuse the site of censorship: In one video viewed more than 300,000 times, Tim Harmsen, the head of a YouTube channel on military firearms, said YouTube’s “far-leftist lunatics” had unfairly threatened his channel with a total ban and added, “Right now we’re under attack.”
For some, Aghdam’s anger about YouTube’s policies became justification to blame the company for what happened to them. “YouTube employees suddenly find themselves on the front lines of a shooting war that they started via censorship and oppression of speech,” read one headline, published on NaturalNews.com. The article was re-posted on Jones’s Infowars.
Neistat sat down again in front of his camera on Wednesday. He wanted to talk about what happened at YouTube.
“I know that when I say YouTube, most of you think of YouTube the website,” he said. “YouTube is a website. But when I say YouTube, I’m thinking of the people. The people that I know at YouTube, the people that operate YouTube. The people that make YouTube happen.”
YouTube is still in the middle of a battle with its creators, over the transparency and enforcement of its rules. The shooting won’t change that, but right now, the YouTube creators who genuinely want the platform to be better are responding in the only way they can — with empathy.
When Neistat looks at YouTube, he said, “I see a collection of human beings. Of incredible human beings.”
Drew Harwell contributed to this report.