YouTube has deleted the videos from an account believed to have belonged to Elliott Rodger, the disturbed 22-year-old man suspected of killing six people and wounding 13 in Isla Vista, California.
Flushed down the Memory Hole include selfie-vid rants with titles like “My reaction to seeing a young couple at the beach, Envy” and “Life is so unfair because girls don’t want me.”
A YouTube spokesperson told Mashable: “Our hearts go out to the families affected by this terrible news. Videos threatening violence are against YouTube’s guidelines and we remove them when they are flagged.” Fair enough.
Not so much the next part.
“We encourage anyone who sees material that they think crosses the line to flag it for us,” YouTube’s PR flack continued. “As YouTube is a place where people come for information, where content is posted in a news context it will be allowed to stay on the site.”
But that’s the thing: Elliott Rodger’s rants weren’t merely newsworthy. Though evidently the product of a foggy brain, his videos were/are a rare first-person account of a now-dead mass murderer’s self-proclaimed motivations. They were/are as close as we — as well as the victims and their survivors — will ever get to understanding why six people are dead.
Those videos were/are news. But now they’re gone.
As is, now, Rodger’s freshly-cleansed YouTube account itself.
Media types seem oddly sanguine about this reflexive deletion of history.
I understand the arguments in favor of — there is no other word — censorship. The trouble is, no one is speaking out against what has become the automatic knee-jerk reaction following national tragedies: erase, delete, wipe away. Anything that causes us to feel uncomfortable, that brings back traumatizing memories, is effaced from existence.
Censorship is so obviously the right thing to do that we don’t talk about it.
Post-tragedy, politicians and other public figures follow a standard script. The vacuous statement: “Our hearts go out to the victims and their families, our thanks to the first responders, blah blah blah.” Studiously missing the point: Too many guns! Too much misogyny! Culture of violence! (Hint: sometimes crazy people snap. Always have, always will.)
Finally, Full Orwell.
After Sandy Hook, one victim — Nancy Lanza, the shooter’s mom — was disappeared from the total count of victims. Talk about misogyny! She didn’t deserve to be mourned because (a) she gave birth to a monster and/or (b) could have been a mom.
Had 9/11 occurred in a different country, there is a strong chance that the pile of debris would have been left in place. What could have served as a more powerful memorial? In Bush-era America, there was no debate. What remained of the World Trade Center was hauled off, body parts and all, and unceremoniously vanished into the city dump.
News media sanitized their web archives, deleting footage of office workers falling to their deaths.
Censorship is almost always baseless. What is the rationale of banning the sale of Nazi ephemera on eBay? It isn’t as though Americans are about to be seduced by 75-year-old pins into forming a neo-Nazi party. You can still find the anti-tax screed of a man who flew his small plane into the Austin IRS office in 2010; four years later, there’s no sign of copycats.
Americans deserve a discussion over whether historically significant, newsworthy bits of information should be cavalierly deleted from the Internet. Whether it is the Isla Vista shooter’s so-called manifesto, or his YouTube videos, or footage of 9/11 jumpers, these are important and historically relevant artifacts that not only the historians of the future but ordinary Americans today have an inherent right to see should they so desire.