The YouTube Shooting Suspect: A Strange Online Aesthetic


What Nasim Najafi Aghdam’s social media content reveals about art and life on the internet.

“Speculation” has meant close, contemplative attention to a matter since the fourteenth century. In the negative sense of conjecture, the sixteenth century. In the sense of gambling on markets, the eighteenth. Since the police identified Nasim Najafi Aghdam as the woman who shot three people and then herself at YouTube’s San Bruno, California, offices on Tuesday, the court of speculation has been open.

Aghdam had a significant presence on the internet, and that presence had a very distinctive look and feel. What appears to be her personal website——directs readers to Farsi, Turkish, and English-language YouTube channels, all of which have been disabled, as well as a now-unavailable Facebook page. She maintained Farsi and English Instagram accounts, and a Telegram channel. Those accounts are easily shut down by the service providers she used, including the one she literally shot at, but a personal website is harder to destroy.

Her post-mortem internet presence gives rise to many questions. What motivated her to post these videos and to style them the way she did? More importantly, what motivated her to shoot people and then to end her life? Given the target of her attack, those questions would seem to be inextricably linked. They facilitate a third question: whether it is appropriate to analyze a violent and possibly unwell person’s social media content with the tools of criticism. This question feels more urgent when that content looks like art.

Continued at The New Republic