YouTube HQ Attack: The Psychology of Workplace Shootings

Psychology of Workplace Shootings May Reveal Different Patterns of Motivation

Posted Apr 04, 2018

Nasim Aghda has been named as the suspect responsible for the YouTube Headquarters shootings which has left one man and two women injured with gunshot wounds. The attacker shot herself dead.

© BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, California
Source: © BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, California

Police say they are still investigating a motive, but can psychological research on this kind of mass shooting reveal clues as to possible motives?

It has been reported that Aghda became angry that YouTube had begun limiting her income from her online videos.

This mass shooting may yet have significant implications for the so-called ‘gig’ economy, where increasingly people earn a living when they are not regarded as formal employees by the company paying for their services.

In fact, what we know so far about the YouTube Headquarters shooting fits the pattern of traditional workplace shootings remarkably closely.

That the profile resembles so closely what happens when a disgruntled employee returns to exact revenge on their boss or co-workers in their office, could have implications for how employers in the gig economy consider their relationship with workers.

Uber, a U.S. company, reportedly claims that the drivers found on their app are self-employed, and so is appealing a recent UK Employment Appeal Tribunal decision, that its drivers are in fact workers with minimum-wage rights.

Adam Lankford, a researcher studying mass killers based at The University of Alabama, has published an analysis of how mass shooters who attack at workplaces differ psychologically from suicide terrorists, school shooters and those described as ‘rampage’ killers who aim to kill many in a public space.

The study published in the academic journal, Homicide Studies, found that workplace shootings involving suicide attempts were twice as common as rampage and school shootings, but only about half as deadly.

This all fits the pattern of what we know so far about the YouTube Headquarters attack.

Adam Lankford also found that workplace shooters were more commonly linked to specific precipitating crisis events, which often involved being suspended, reprimanded, or fired by their employer. And they were less likely to pen a suicide note or other written explanation, which may indicate a shorter period of premeditation.

Adam Lankford found that workplace shooters may be the most “normal” of the four types of attackers in his study, from a psychological standpoint.

They appeared far more likely than suicide terrorists, rampage shooters, or school shooters to kill individuals by whom they felt personally victimized. These targets were usually supervisors and bosses, although sometimes they were other hated co-workers.

In most of these cases, the perpetrators ended up shooting bystanders as well.

The YouTube link in this incident of mass shooting may also have something to do with the desire for fame or infamy, which has been found to be a key motivator in a significant number of mass shootings.

Nasim Aghda ran a number of YouTube channels and a website on which she apparently recently posted a video railing against You Tube. Her frustration may also have centred on You Tube preventing her from becoming famous, as well as depriving her of an income.

Adam Lankford has also published a study entitled, ‘Fame-seeking rampage shooters: Initial findings and empirical predictions’, where he argues that recent notable examples of mass shooters who have sought fame include 1999 Columbine school shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, 2007 Nebraska mall shooter Robert Hawkins, and 2007 Virginia Tech university shooter Seung Hui Cho.

He also argues in his study published in the journal, Aggression and Violent Behavior, that the U.S. seems to suffer a disproportionate number of these infamy seeking mass shooters, maybe partly because increasingly in America, perhaps more than in any other country on the globe, fame is revered as an end unto itself.

Surveys find 51% of Americans aged 18–25 say that “to be famous” is one of their generation's most important goals in life.

Adam Lankford finds that the United States has approximately 31% of the world's mass killers, but approximately 75% of these offenders who explicitly seek fame.

He found that fame-seeking mass killers did not always leave behind suicide notes, manifestos, or videos, which seems odd, why pass up an opportunity to communicate with a mass audience when your dreadful actions guarantee world attention?

Lankford argues that in some cases, rampage shooters might have calculated that by declaring less, and so creating an enigma about their motives for the public and media to wrestle with, they would court greater celebrity.

For example, in an online post, 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter Adam Lanza apparently considered why some school shootings remain popular topics compared to others, concluding this was because of enhanced speculation which inevitably follows if the shooter doesn’t leave behind evidence of motives.

Lanza appears to have followed this same strategy for fame: he intentionally destroyed his computer and deleted many of his online posts, and then committed suicide after his attack.

As a result, Adam Lankford contends, there has been much more public and media speculation about his motives ever since.

References

Fame-seeking rampage shooters: Initial findings and empirical predictions. AdamLankford. Aggression and Violent Behavior Volume 27, March–April 2016, Pages 122-129. 

A Comparative Analysis of Suicide Terrorists and Rampage, Workplace, and School Shooters in the United States From 1990 to 2010. Adam Lankford. Homicide Studies. August 1, 2013.