Tragically, the YouTube Shooting Attack Is Not a Complete Surprise

I didn’t get much sleep last night. For many years I’ve feared the kind of attack that occurred at YouTube headquarters yesterday. Employees severely injured — the shooter dead by her own hand.

I’ve spent time looking over the attacker’s online materials — her website and available videos.

What’s immediately clear is that she had smoldering grievances against Google’s YouTube, that exploded yesterday in a rampage of innocent blood and her own self-destruction. Her father apparently knew that she “hated YouTube” — and had warned police that she might be headed there.

Google will no doubt bolster its physical security in the wake of this tragedy, but of course that merely pushes the zone of risk out to the perimeters of their secure areas.

Haunting me regarding the shooter’s online statements is that one way or another, I’ve seen or heard so much similar to them, so many times before.

For many years, Google and YouTube users have come to me in desperation when they felt that their problems or grievances were being ignored by Google. If you’ve been reading my posts for any significant length of time, you’ve seen me discussing these matters on numerous occasions.

The common thread in the stories that I hear from these users — usually by email, sometimes by phone — are feelings of frustration, of desperation, of an inability to communicate with Google — to get what they consider to be at least a “fair shake” from the firm when they have Google-related problems.

I’ve not infrequently pondered the possibility that one day, an upset, desperate Google user would become violent, potentially with deadly results especially given the flood of easily available firearms in this country.

YouTube related issues have typically been a big chunk of these user concerns brought to me, as have been Google account access issues generally. I’ve tried to help these users when I could, e.g., please see: “The Google Account  ‘Please Help Me!’ Flood” – – and many other posts.

For well over a decade (most recently late last month) — both publicly and directly to Google — I’ve repeatedly urged the creation of Google “ombudsman” or similar roles, to provide more empowered escalation and internal policy analysis paths, and to help provide an “escape valve” for better dealing with the more serious user issues that arise. Just a couple of my related posts include:

“Why Big Tech Needs Big Ethics — Right Now!” –

“Google Needs an Ombudsman” Posts from 2009 — Still Relevant Today” –

Google has always rejected such calls for ombudsmen or similar roles. Google has said that ombudsmen might have too much power (this definitely need not be the case — these roles can be defined in a wide variety of ways). Google has insisted that ombudsman concepts couldn’t scale adequately to their ecosystem (yet other firms with very large numbers of customers have managed to employ these concepts successfully for many decades).

The reality is that Google — filled to the brim with some of the smartest and most capable people on the planet — COULD make this work if they were willing to devote sufficient time and resources to structuring such roles appropriately.

Google’s communications with their users — along with related support and policy issues — have always collectively been Google’s Achilles’ heel.

While one would be reasonable to assume that the number of aggrieved Google users inclined to physically attack Google and Googlers is extremely limited, the fact remains that desperate people driven over the edge can be expected to sometimes take desperate actions. This is not by any means to excuse such horrific actions — but these are the facts.

Google and its services have become integral parts of people’s lives — in some cases more so than even their own families.

Google turns 20 this year. It’s time for Google to truly take responsibility for these issues and to grow up.