CHICAGO - Even as television news anchors explained why they would no longer show the videos made by suspected Virginia Tech killer Seung Hui Cho, his diatribe was rapidly being uploaded to YouTube.com.
There hundreds of versions of Cho’s video and news coverage of it can be found. On Friday, the three most-watched YouTube videos featured Cho.
Most news outlets stopped showing the videos by Thursday, in part due to public pressure and concerns that the images could incite copycat killers.
But they have been granted new life on the Internet, where younger viewers have flocked in recent years to catch home-made videos and other clips. Now they can see into the eyes of a young man many have called a monster.
“Those seeking the video online must know in their own heart why they need to watch it again,” said Andrew Finlayson, news director for Chicago’s WFLD, a Fox affiliate, which stopped airing the video on Thursday. “I personally hope it is not for amusement but instead to reflect on how we can prevent this from happening again.”
One video posted Thursday on YouTube has been viewed more than 700,000 times. Furthermore, that video and the hundreds like them are being linked to blogs, MySpace profile pages and e-mailed across the Web. Hence, millions of people could still be watching Cho’s disturbing actions even as mainstream media have stopped showing them.
Many of those viewers would likely be college-age, since in the four-week period ending April 14, 29.7 percent of YouTube’s viewers were ages 18 to 24, according to Internet tracking firm Hitwise.
By contrast, last year, the median age of the viewers for the nightly news broadcasts of the three major networks was about 60, according to Nielsen ratings.
YouTube is not a media outlet but it does have a responsibility, said Bob Steele, the values scholar for the Poynter Institute, a Florida-based journalism think tank.
“I’m not suggesting they should not allow the video (on YouTube), but they should consider the ramifications of the video being on there,” he said. “Letting the chips fall where they may is not the answer. They should have some standards.”
YouTube viewers must flag a video as inappropriate before site operators take action. YouTube’s community guidelines also say videos depicting graphic or gratuitous violence are not allowed. “YouTube is not a shock site,” according to the guidelines.
YouTube, owned by Google Inc., did not make an executive available for interview.
Media giant Viacom Inc. sued Google for $1 billion in March for copyright violations. Part of Viacom’s frustration, cited in the federal lawsuit, is that YouTube must be asked to remove content from its site.
Videos of Cho are also available on other sites. But one, Revver.com, said none are posted on its site. Before videos go up on Revver, they are reviewed for copyright violations, a spokeswoman said Friday. If the poster owns the copyright, they could go up as long as the site’s reviewers deemed them appropriate.
“If it’s not their content, we won’t post it,” she said.
The top YouTube video on Friday was a copy of a report that first aired on NBC News.
Yet many of the Cho videos are what’s called “mash-ups,” in which the person who created the video added music or other tricks.
One widely watched YouTube video, made by a director named Deadasoren, features a still picture of Cho holding two guns toward the camera. Scrolling across the screen are words Cho spoke in one video and playing in the background is a song titled “Spider’s Web” by singer Katie Melua.
Deadasoren writes that his video “was meant to show what Cho was thinking at the time of the massacre. It doesn’t represent my own (deadasoren) personal view.”
He could not be reached for comment.
Former newspaper journalist Dan Gillmor, the director of the Center for Citizen Media, doesn’t think YouTube has an obligation to take down the Cho videos. But he thinks those who post to YouTube and other sites should be responsible.
“News organizations hold themselves to standards,” Gillmor said. “I’d like to see people doing all kinds of media, including citizen journalism, with integrity.”
Steele said there was a “journalistic purpose” for news organizations to show the Cho videos late Wednesday and into Thursday, even though there was concern cited “about the possibility of copycats,” he said. “But those same elements do not exist on Friday.”