On Safety

"Ms. Aghdam parked her car at a business near YouTube. She entered one of the company’s parking garages, and then walked into an outdoor courtyard where employees were eating lunch. "

News of the shooting at YouTube's headquarters this week chilled me because I worked in that building for 2 years. Watching TV news clips and seeing witnesses interviewed in the shopping plaza where I'd go to pick up prescriptions was unsettling. I'd made that walk from the parking structure to the outdoor courtyard a number of times. I'd also been very much a part of convincing advertisers and creators alike through the press that the site was a way to connect with huge audiences. And when 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, ensuring that ads will always run over safe content that is on brand is untenable. The dilemma of supporting creators and giving them creative license vs. protecting your advertisers from showing up next to the dark depths of the platform (i.e. Verizon ads running alongside hate preacher Hanif Qureshi) is one that will continue to plague YouTube, much less The Internet.

We now know that the shooter was partly motivated by her frustration with the policies that YouTube put in place to protect the brands that sustain their business model. There's something deeply distubring that someone would want to take others' lives because of this. I don't know any of the victims and many of my fellow YouTubers have gone on to other endeavors, but I had lots of feelings about it all the same.

The first feeling was one of sadness that people were hurt and a life lost over something so senseless. The second was denial and an attempt to not be affected by this news, since gun violence impacts communities all across the country every day. Why should we be more concerned when it happens to affluent techies than to children in inner cities? The students in Parkland that united with students in Chicago on the issue of gun violence came to mind. This was not productive and I cried anyway.

The third feeling was eery remorse that this wasn't the first time I was steps away from violence and had been spared by my privilege or happenstance.

Months after I left Nairobi, Kenya in 2013, there was a shooting at Westgate Mall where 67 people were killed and 175 wounded when al-Shabaab stormed the place. Westgate was where I would often grab groceries, read a book in their courtyard, or go look at the beautiful fabrics on display. A stark contrast to my work week in the informal settlements where this type of wealth was unheard of but the commerce was bizarrely the same. Need a freshly squeezed juice, custom-made dress and a massage? Westgate. Need a delicious roast corn and your tuk tuk fixed with efficient ingenuity and no spare parts? Mukuru slum. The threats of terrorism in Nairobi were very real and, paired with election violence of ethnic groups being pitted against one another to keep government control...I lived a vigilant but selectively naive life there. But nothing DID happen to me, and I was safe.

A month before I traveled to London, England in 2005 for an internship with Nickelodeon, 4 bombs were detonated by terrorists in the Russell Square Tube Station and on a double-decker bus. I'd never seen anything like it in my short sheltered life. A friend in the program reported back from watching the bus blow up from her apartment, a short distance away. I wondered if I should stay home, forget the job. My boss for my campus job convinced me that if I let fear stop me from taking opportunities like these now, I would let fear decide for me for the rest of my life. She may have been right, because nothing DID happen to me, and I was safe.

My wife tells me I'm reckless and that my feeling of invincibility is going to get me in trouble someday. Perhaps. When Christiane Amanpour and John Krakauer are your childhood heros, what do you expect? Also, it's her job to worry about me.

But the only conclusion I can draw from these three events is that I have had the privilege to be safe most of my life. We live in a violent world but if I hadn't jumped out of my ivory tower, I wouldn't be able to recognize how incredibly lucky I am to have had these experiences and to understand that many people around the globe live with the threat of violence. I wouldn't have a profound awareness that there are systems of oppression that fuel this violence and that my privilege gives me a responsibility to do what I can to change these systems.