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Rap Genius cofounder apologizes for sick annotations of a killer's manifesto.

UPDATE: According to a post from Tom Lehman, Co-founder and CEO, Rap Genius co-founder Moghadam has resigned.

Yesterday the Rap Genius community annotated Elliot Rodger’s manifesto on News Genius. Because this tragedy is still so raw, there was internal debate as to whether this document belonged on the site at all. Ultimately we decided that it was worthy of close reading – understanding the psychology of people who do horrible things can help us to better understand our society and ourselves.

The current version of the annotated document is far from great, but the hope is that the annotations will improve over time as the story unfolds and it will eventually be a good resource for people looking to understand this tragedy.

Almost all the annotations were at least attempting a close reading – they were genuinely, though imperfectly, trying to add context to the text and make it easier to understand.

However, Mahbod Moghadam, one of my co-founders, annotated the piece with annotations that not only didn’t attempt to enhance anyone’s understanding of the text, but went beyond that into gleeful insensitivity and misogyny. All of which is contrary to everything we’re trying to accomplish at Rap Genius.

Were Mahbod’s annotations posted by a new Rap Genius user, it would be up to our community leaders, who set the tone of the site and our approach to annotation, to delete them and explain to the new user why they were unacceptable.

Were Mahbod’s annotations posted by a Rap Genius moderator, that person would cease to be an effective community leader and would have to step down.

And Mahbod, our original community leader, is no exception. In light of this, Mahbod has resigned – both in his capacity as an employee of the company, and as a member of our board of directors, effective immediately.

Mahbod is my friend. He's a brilliant, creative, complicated person with a ton of love in his heart. Without Mahbod Rap Genius would not exist, and I am grateful for all he has done to help Rap Genius succeed. But I cannot let him compromise the Rap Genius mission – a mission that remains almost as delicate and inchoate as it was when we three founders decided to devote our lives to it almost 5 years ago.

Tom Lehman
Co-Founder & CEO

Recode is saying close sources are claiming Mahbod was asked to leave, and didn't step down of his own accord. And given how many times he's said outlandish things in the past and not resigned, I would have no difficulty believing it.

Still, Lehman's letter tries its best to defend him as well as even placing the manifesto on Rap Genius to begin with. Adding context. But really, what kind of context can anyone at Rap Genius add? Did they personally know Elliot Rodger or any of the victims? All they can do is interpret the writings the same way as they can a rap lyric on their site. But this wasn't a lyric. It was the ramblings of a disturbed individual who blew a gasket one day and killed six people. And once again all eyes are on the killer instead of the victims. I see that Rap Genius didn't feel the need to add context to their lives. If only those six individuals had written a manifesto...


By now you've heard that allegedly a twenty-two year old son of an assistant producer of the Hunger Games, frustrated at his sexual inadequacies and privileged life in general, decided to go on a shooting rampage, killing six in UCSB, California.

The bodies have barely been laid to rest and Twitter has already politicized them in favor of different issues. Although Rodger was clearly a misogynist who hated women, he also hated men and was an equal opportunity killer. He ended the lives of three men, too. Not to mention against the NRA and guns, although Rodger used a knife to kill three people, and discussed using a hammer as well. But that's Twitter for you. The echo chamber to end all echo chambers. The giant soap box of outrage. It makes every one feel better for a moment, or makes them feel worse. But absolutely nothing changes. All I can say is, I'm glad there's a mute button because, wow. If people acted like that in person, frothing at the mouth constantly and shouting down anyone who respectfully disagreed with them, the world would be a worse place than it already is.

I say this of course, because for a second I forgot about Rap Genius. Elliot Rodger left behind a chilling manifesto that read more like a sad-sack autobiography written by a deranged narcissist. A psychiatrist would have a field day reading it. Instead, Rap genius cofounder Mahbod Moghadam took it upon himself to annotate it, just like he would something by Wiz Khalifa or Jay-Z, only even more in-depth and insensitive and sick.

In part of the manifesto where Rodger said "There were lots of guests, and I did what I usually did at such dinner parties... I sat around eating snacks and talked with my sister, sometimes going to father and to ask for a sip of wine."
Mahbod Moghadam originally wrote:

Elliot barely mentions his sister Georgia throughout the book!
Towards the end, however, he tells us that they did not get along and becomes extremely angry when he hears her having sex with her boyfriend.
MY GUESS: His sister is smokin hot.

That last line was edited out by the Rap Genius Clean Up Committee. But screen dumps are forever and you can see it and all his other morbidly fascinating and wildly inappropriate comments here.

Co-founder Ilan Zechory issued a strongly worded condemnation. Moghadam issued an apology to the press and on twitter, if this passive aggressive tweet is related.

Remember, this is permissionless innovation at work. While the manifesto in question is surely public domain, let's just pause for a second to remember it is a manifesto that finishes up the same month an alleged killer enacted his plan to kill as many people as possible. Why in the actual fuck are we annotating this at all? Because, money?

Drive that traffic as hard as you can, because that's all heavily-funded Big Tech companies care about. Six people dead, A college campus in ruins. Southern California rocked with grief. But so what, right? Drive traffic first and then apologize afterward like they always do. Never mind the fact you are celebrating a killer instead of the victims, and potentially inspiring copycats to do the same for the fame.

I wonder if NPR will run another fawning story about them now?

The problem so clearly illustrated, and why I have so much disdain for so many content websites is this: The so-called website creators and by extension their community of minion editors do not view things like the manifesto of Elliot Rodger as a sad and disturbing portrait of a person who went on a killing spree before killing himself. They don't view it as a horrible symptom of society or see it as a chance to come together and heal. Because in order to do so, they would have to start looking at it as being something more than just content. As something more than a commodity ready to exploit to the fullest. As something without people behind it, designed merely to help win the battle for eyeballs and own the search. And then of course, to make a buck off of, as soon as a working business model gets ironed out.

Treating Elliot Rogers manifesto as something to annotate is no different from google's desire to scan every last book on the planet whether they have permission from authors or not, or copyright infringing websites, or filesharing movies and music via torrents. It's only content and there's no harm intended, like they say in the youtube description.

Sure there isn't.

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Dabitch's picture

The photo of the Rapgenius founders at Verge.com practically screams "brogrammers".

I would comment on the rest but I find the whole topic so upsetting.