YouTube this week handed authorities in Finland an opportunity to stop a mass killing.
After spotting several threatening videos allegedly posted to YouTube by student Matti Saari, Finnish police tracked down and questioned the 22-year-old man on Monday. Authorities there are now answering questions about why they freed Saari, who on Tuesday gunned down 10 classmates and then killed himself at the vocational school he attended.
The sick trend of school shootings continues: Columbine, Virginia Tech, and last November's Jokela High School Massacre, also in Finland. What was different this time was that police were in a position to prevent the slaughter once they saw Saari's videos on YouTube. The clips featured Saari firing a handgun and making threats. One showed him pointing a gun at the camera and saying: "You will die next."
But there has been a debate about whether videos like the ones Saari posted should even exist on YouTube. Following the latest shooting, YouTube's "hand's off" approach toward such content is once again under scrutiny.
YouTube bans graphic violence and pornography and removes such content once flagged by users. In most cases, the site doesn't work proactively to censor speech. To be sure, there are plenty of videos at YouTube advocating the destruction of one group or another.
In the wake of last November's slaughter at Jokela High School by Pekka-Eric Auvinen, when the high school student went on a shooting rampage that left nine people dead, some argued that YouTube should do more to block hate speech or clips that promote violence. The thinking here is that YouTube may be the vehicle that inspires and emboldens teens and others to take lives. I'll just point out the obvious: School shootings were occurring long before YouTube hit the scene.
The way I see it, when the next deranged soul chronicles his preparations for murder by posting a video to YouTube in the way that Saari did, perhaps the clips will help authorities stop him. YouTube can act as an early warning system.
An example of that preventive characteristic may have come as I write this. The Associated Press is reporting that police in Sweden on Thursday arrested a 16-year-old-boy after viewing a suspicious clip he allegedly posted to YouTube.
There's no question that hate speech and threats of violence are disturbing and ugly. But if YouTube starts scrubbing the site of such videos, then the public has less information about those who promote these ideas.
I think it's better to know your enemy, especially when he or she might be preparing to harm you.