Re Pekka-Eric Auvinen's shooting spree at Jokela high school, Greg Sandoval of CNET News writes:
Predictably, some media outlets are already producing stories that imply Google's YouTube is a scary place where hateful polemics can be broadcast, unmolested by more thoughtful minds.
That's terribly unfair. What people should remember is that YouTube did not glorify the teenage gunman who went on the killing spree in Finland early Tuesday morning. Nor did the world's largest and most influential video-sharing site help him spread his angry message. Nonetheless, in the wake of yet another senseless shooting on a school campus, people will be looking for scapegoats.
I sympathize with the sentiment, but Sandoval goes a step too far. Of course YouTube helped Auvinen, a.k.a. "Sturmgeist89", to spread his message. It offered a place where he could post his videos and an existing audience that could easily find his messages. If we take away the controversy and consider a situation in which a teenager posted videos on YouTube of himself, say, reading his romantic poetry, would not everyone agree that the website helps him to spread his art?
Another question is whether a website that helps people to have their say in a public place are a bad thing. Even if we ignore the full range of uses to which such sites can be put and only consider this specific case, I would argue that spreading Sturmgeist89's videos far and wide would have been a positive thing; it could have potentially alerted others to the fact that he was a disturbed individual who shouldn't have been in the possession of a gun.
One could argue that he might have found converts for his cause. However, his messages to the world were amateurish and full of logical errors. Had he not killed all those people, I would have been inclined to dismiss him as prankster. Here's a teenager from Fin-reindeer-molesting-land spreading the truth about de-evolution in broken English and calling himself the "natural selector". And then he goes to his boring high school, whips out his gun, and starts shooting people while yelling, "Revolution!" In Tuusula! The whole scenario is absurd - except for the bodies.
It's also a fact that the media have helped to spread the message to a much greater extent than YouTube ever did. Every media outlet I follow has mentioned the web videos and most have given enough details about them to allow any experienced Internet user to find them. If attention-seeking is the motive, then prevention can only come about by regulating the media, because their reporting reaches so many more people than some nobody's videos on YouTube. Does anyone want to advocate for this?