By Jake S.
Whenever there’s a mass shooting, especially in the gun-crazy United States, there inevitably follows a lengthy blame-assignment period in which everyone wants to lay the tragedy at the feet of whatever group they ultimately deem responsible, which often doesn’t include the actual shooter. The Isla Vista shootings of May 25, which left 7 people dead – including the murderer, Elliot Rodger – are no exception. In addition to the usual suspects (parents, school administrators, therapists, the media, the gun culture, Hollywood, and internet pornography), this case reveals a vast hive of scum and villainy, both online and off, that features “pickup artists,” bodybuilders, people who hate pickup artists (and bodybuilders), racists, misogynists, the Mega Millions Lottery, and perhaps even Justin Bieber. (We’ll get to him momentarily.)
Naturally I looked for a way to blame Wikipedia, too, but in the end, I just couldn’t do it. Perhaps my best-known aphorism is “Wikipedia is a revenge platform,” and it was in this case, but it also wasn’t enough. Elliot Rodger half-heartedly tried, and utterly failed, to satisfy his desire for payback against the so-called “manosphere” by Wikipedia editing alone, and the rest, you already know. So I’m writing this more as a “cautionary tale”; do with it what you will.
The Boy With The Thorn In His Side
Rodger had a Wikipedia account, “ElliotR1,” created on Feb. 12, 2013, which he initially used to remove this image of the winner of a wrestling match in Nuba from the article about his grandfather, George Rodger, a famous photographer. At the time, he explained that the photograph was “too silly and inappropriate for wikipedia” and that “people might mistake it for a picture of the photographer.” We now know that Elliot Rodger was not especially fond of black men, or Asian men, or any other men for that matter, and his reasons for wanting the photograph removed probably had as much to do with his racist sense of personal aesthetics as with the fact that the photograph actually is somewhat silly.
A few hours later, Rodger – who, it should be noted, didn’t like to be reminded that other people were busy having sex that didn’t involve him – tried to remove sexually explicit photographs from the articles on Wikipedia’s Footjob and Fellatio articles, stating in an edit summary that the photographs were “inappropriate for Wikipedia.” Clearly, Rodger was still under the common misapprehension that Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, as opposed to a giant game-driven anti-cultural free-for-all dramafest masquerading as one. Apparently he also believed that the photographs depicted the uploader himself, leading him to ask, “Did you take these pictures? Wikipedia is not a place for you to flaunt your life.” (Another misapprehension; that’s precisely what Wikipedia is.)
In any event, the removals were quickly reverted. Rodger was given the benefit of the doubt by the admins, but in a final moment of frustration over his failure to make Wikipedia look the way he preferred, Rodger did something that’s often done by frustrated newbies just before they give up altogether: he “vandalized.” Specifically, he blanked the article on then-teenage Canadian pop superstar Justin Bieber.
Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now
At this point, Rodger’s “user trajectory” on Wikipedia was really quite common, and certainly no worse or more unusual than those of other recent spree shooters and murderers who edited Wikipedia, such as Breivik, Lanza, Bedell and Magnotta. He made a few edits out of self-interest, which were reverted, but the ease by which he could change the world’s largest encyclopedia juiced his innate narcissism, leading him to make more edits, only this time to articles that were fundamental to Wikipedia’s mission. When those were reverted as well, he got upset, blanked a popular page, and left the site. Though the Bieber article was almost instantaneously restored by Wikipedia’s “Cluebot,” an automated vandal-reversion program, Rodger was blocked for a week for the act of page-blanking. Rodger might not have noticed the block, but since he didn’t note it in his manifesto, we’ll probably never know. (Regardless, could anyone really be blamed for blanking the Bieber page? All of us, including Bieber himself, have probably wanted to do it at some time or other.)
The next part of the story involves male model Simon Nessman and an Australian bodybuilder named Aziz “Zyzz” Shavershian. The Russian-born Shavershian had developed an unusually ardent online following, both for the way he had “sculpted” his body and for the way he then publicly reveled in his own over-the-top personal narcissism. His fame only increased in 2011 when he died of a heart attack, almost certainly (but not officially) due to his having ingested huge amounts of steroids.
Unfortunately, our investigation of this part of the story is hampered by the fact that many of the forums frequented by Rodger have since been scrubbed of related content by terrified site owners and administrators. The one most often cited, PUAHate.com, has been taken down completely, though Google caches of some threads still exist at the time of this writing. Because of these caches we know that forum discussions of Nessman and Shavershian did take place, and we also know that Rodger had an extremely low opinion of both of them as undeserving “Alphas” and “beast-men” – in line with his belief that women only find such men attractive because they (i.e., women) are “less evolved” and unable to see past surface appearances.
Back to the Old House
In the mid-afternoon of July 20, 2013, Elliot Rodger returned to Wikipedia and made two edits. The first was to remove the “infobox” on Nessman’s article, thus effectively removing the photograph of Nessman. He then went to the Shavershian article and removed just the image from his infobox. (It might be noted here that in the intervening three months, Wikipedia had implemented its new “VisualEditor” software, which may have caused Rodger to remove Nessman’s entire infobox inadvertently when he only meant to remove the photo.) Four hours later, at 7:49 PM local time, Rodger made three more edits in quick succession – each of which removed a list-item mention of Shavershian from other articles (Eastwood, New South Wales; Marist College Eastwood; and List of University of Western Sydney people).
The Nessman edit had been reverted within 14 minutes, so it seems likely that Rodger would have noticed it. However, the subsequent edits involving Shavershian were not reverted until 9 hours later, and at 7:16 AM local time, Rodger was finally blocked indefinitely for “unexplained removals of content” – and this time he was not given the benefit of the doubt, because the blocking admin would have readily seen Rodger’s blanking of the Bieber article and concluded that Rodger was little more than a common “vandal.”
But assuming we’re to take Rodger’s account of that evening’s events (http://www.scribd.com/doc/225936731/Untitled) as accurate, by the time these things happened he had already left his apartment to give the women of Isla Vista and UC Santa Barbara “one last chance” to have sex with him before finally committing himself to a course that would ultimately lead to mass murder:
In July, I spent a lot of time exercising in my room in a final effort to appear as attractive as possible to girls. I proposed that after two weeks of rigorous exercising, I will try my hardest to go out in Isla Vista and do everything I can to meet a girl and lose my virginity. It had been a long time since I went out to Isla Vista by myself, but I knew that I had to do it. I had nothing to lose, and my whole life was on the line. Before would set the definite decision to plan the Day of Retribution, I wanted to give women and humanity one more chance to accept me and give me a chance to have a pleasurable youth. I resolved that if I go out to Isla Vista for this final time, and I still end up going back to my room as a lonely virgin, I will have no choice but to plan my Retribution. I even attended college at SBCC again. I signed up for a summer sociology class and attended it for a week, before dropping it out of the familiar frustration of girls talking to other boys instead of me.This last ditch effort of desperation to once again try to live an enjoyable college life in Isla Vista came to an ultimate and devastating culmination on Saturday night, July 20th, just a few days before my 22nd Birthday. It was the day that I decided to go out in Isla Vista in an attempt to lose my virginity before I turned 22. That was the only thing that could have saved me. I was giving the female gender one last chance to provide me with the pleasures I deserved from them.
In other words, literally minutes after his half-hearted attempt to abnegate Aziz Shavershian’s presence on Wikipedia, Rodger went out, crashed a house party on Del Playa Street, was ignored by numerous women, tried to push several of the women off a second-story ledge, and finally was thrown off the ledge himself, breaking his leg in the fall. He claims to have spent the next day in hospital having the leg repaired, so he might not have learned of his Wikipedia account being blocked until several days later.
Paint a Vulgar Picture
But there’s no mention of Rodger’s July 20 Wikipedia activity in his “manifesto” whatsoever. He mentions PUAHate, and of course Youtube, but not Wikipedia. And he never actually explains why he chose that particular day to give the female gender “one last chance.”
Looking at this in perspective, Elliot Rodger wrote a lengthy “manifesto” telling the world in excruciating detail that he was a hopeless loser, hated himself and everyone else, couldn’t get laid literally to save his life, and intended to kill people because of it. Every nasty private thought, every petty humiliation, every grotesque fantasy seemingly made it into the story of his horrible, psychosis-ridden life – but he couldn’t bring himself to admit that he’d edited Wikipedia. That one thing, and perhaps that thing alone, was apparently just too shameful for anyone else to know about.
Well I Wonder
Speaking only for myself, what bothers me the most about this story is that I can’t help liking Wikipedia a little more now than I did before. After all, Wikipedia tried. It beckoned to Rodger, as if to say “don’t fret, tortured soul; you can get your cheap, anonymous revenge here with us, and all we’ll do is revert your edits and block your account – and who knows, we might not even do that!” True, it wasn’t enough for Rodger, but could it have been enough for other would-be mass murderers in the past? Could Wikipedia have actually helped – indirectly, unintentionally, and in cases that might never have actually happened – to save lives?
Then again, maybe the hollow, empty feeling Rodger must have experienced after making those Wikipedia edits, knowing they would quickly be reverted and have no real-world effect on the article subjects anyway, only exacerbated his feelings of powerlessness and helpless rage.
We’ll probably never know.