With no known suicide note or definitive social media post explaining what drove her to a violent demise, it’s hard to figure out why Nasim Aghdam opened fire at YouTube’s San Bruno, California, headquarters on Tuesday (Apr. 3), injuring three people before taking her own life.
What we do know is that authorities are poring over the vegan activist’s YouTube videos — since taken down — including one in which she railed against the Google-owned site for what she felt was its restriction of her content posting.
“There is no equal growth opportunity on YOUTUBE or any other video sharing site, your channel will grow if they want to!!!!!,” Aghdam ranted in a screengrab shared by CNN, in which the 39 year-old San Diego native railed against unnamed dictatorships she claimed put “personal short term profit” over truth, hiding honesty to achieve what she termed nefarious goals, while hinting that YouTube was restricting her ability to post.
“There is no free speech in real world & you will be suppressed for telling the truth that is not supported by the system,” she wrote, including a famous quote from Hitler about repeating big lies enough times to will them into truth. “Videos of targeted users are filtered & merely relegated, so that people can hardly see their videos!”
At press time it was still not believed that Aghdam specifically targeted any of her victims in the brazen daylight attack in a common area at YT headquarters, but investigators piecing together her final days and hours are left with a confusing trail of posts that paint a portrait of a strident animal-rights activist, artist, occasional singer, bodybuilder and avowed vegan who at one point had at least 4 YT channels that hosted her widely varying conent.
According to Gizmodo, Aghdam’s personal website — also since removed — included links to videos critical of YT dating back to mid-2016, as well as “footage of animal cruelty, a text-to-speech video describing the risks of anal sex” and a clip from an InfoWars editor decrying popular culture as “more vulgar, vapid, self-absorbed, hedonistic and dehumanizing than at any other time in living memory.”
Aghdam was reported missing by her family on March 3 and police said they found her sleeping in her car early Tuesday morning not far from YT headquarters. According to CNN, police tracked Aghdamn down around 1:40 a.m. and spoke to her for around 20 minutes, during which she did not mention YT or her alleged upset with the site. Authorities described her as “calm and cooperative” during the talk, adding that her father and brother never mentioned anything about “potential acts of violence or a possibility of Aghdam lashing out as a result of her issues with her (YouTube) videos.”
An hour later, “Her father called us back to let us know that she made a series of vegan videos for her channel on YouTube, and that the company had recently done something to her videos that had caused her to become upset,” Mountain View police told CNN. “It is believed the suspect was upset with the policies and practices of YouTube,” San Bruno police chief Ed Barberini later told reporters. “This appears to be the motive for this incident.” Police also revealed that Aghdam visited a gun range to practice shooting on Tuesday before driving to to San Bruno, where she allegedly used the same legally purchased semiautomatic 9 mm handgun she used in the attack.
In addition to clips in which she called herself a “ninja,” and one in which the Los Angeles Times reported that she said in Farsi that she had no “specific physical or mental illness,” but rather lived in a planet “that is filled with illness, and disorder and perversion and injustice,” Aghdam posted videos in which she danced, offered vegan recipes, did parodies of popular TV shows and movies and provided exercise tips, as well as the occasional music video.
NBC News reported that her four YT channels collectively had more than 9.2 million views since she joined the site in 2010 and that her alleged grievances stemmed from changes made by the site in how it pays video creators for ads shows before or alongside their videos. Some of those recent changes included “making it harder for video creators with smaller followings and view counts to make any money from their videos.” NBC also reported on an image folder on Aghdam’s personal website, which showed what purported to be an email she received that “appeared to come from an account associated with YouTube’s legal support team in response to a complaint she levied on June 16, 2017.”
In a screenshot of the email uploaded on June 27, 2017, Aghdam rails against “discrimination and hatred problems against me,” complaining of a “huge drop in views” after she began uploading videos in Farsi and Turkish. Laid over the email in large red letters is the message, “my email to youtube legal team. Subject is discrimination, but their response is about account activation!” Charts from the analytics site SocialBlade reportedly showed that Aghdam suffered a major decline in viewers and subscribers to her main YT channel in June 2016; she reportedly launched several other YT accounts during 2016 and 2017, which also suffered significant viewership dips within several months.
NBC reported that it was unclear how much Aghdam was making from her YT views, but SocialBlade estimates put her take at between $661 and $10,614 a year for her four YT accounts. According to the New York Post, Aghdam might also have been angry that YT had censored one of her workout video tutorials for being too provocative. “I’m being discriminated and filtered on YouTube and I’m not the only one,” Aghdam reportedly says in a Jan. 28 video posted to her site. “They age restricted my ab workout video. A video that has nothing bad in it. Nothing sexual.”