Aaron Swartz, Internet Activist, Reddit Cofounder, RSS Co-Author, Dead At 26

The family of the computer programmer believes MIT and the government should take some responsibility for his apparent suicide.

Aaron Swartz's death, at just 26, has robbed the Internet of one of its most popular activists. The talented computer programmer, who was facing trial for alleged hacking offenses against Jstor, a subscription-only service for scientific and literary papers, was found hanged in his Brooklyn apartment on Friday night. As well as being one of the co-creators of the RSS tool, Swartz, described by friend Cory Doctorow as "impressionable," had designed the early architecture of the Reddit website.

Swartz's family and partner released a statement on Tumblr on Saturday night, calling his death "the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach." They also pointed the finger at MIT, on whose computers the alleged hack took place, back in 2011.

The president of MIT, L. Rafael Reif, announced an investigation into the tragedy, promising a "thorough analysis of MIT's involvement from the time that we first perceived unusual activity on our network in fall 2010 up to the present." Yesterday, the school's website was also hacked into by Anonymous, which posted a tribute to Swartz on one of its pages. Tim Berners-Lee, the man seen as the inventor of the web, tweeted a tribute. "Aaron dead. World wanderers, we have lost a wise elder. Hackers for right, we are one down. Parents all, we have lost a child. Let us weep."

An opponent of online censorship, Swartz had wrested with depression, and, in January 2007, had even posted about the affliction on his blog, writing: "There is a moment, immediately before life becomes no longer worth living, when the world appears to slow down and all its myriad details suddenly become brightly, achingly apparent."

[Image by Flickr user ragesoss]

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10 Comments

  • Justus

    The fate of
    the Aaron Swartz's tragedy, caused by the Boston US Attorney’s Office, will be
    lost if no one speaks of the evil that office has done the past against innocent
    people. Just to give you a  glimpse of
    lives that office has destroyed in their zeal to win a conviction at any
    cost, that office is the only and only US Attorney office
    in the nation which was slapped with 101 million dollars verdict
    for violating the accused rights--some of whom-died behind bars while that
    office was all along aware of their innocence. Just google Lemone v. US.
    ( US Court of Appeals for the 1st Cir.)–by the way—not to mention
    that their current US Attorney is a close associate  of our US Attorney General, Eric Holder—so keep your expectation for
    justice to the bare minimum.

  • tcliff1

    Oooh, sorry. While I disagree with the actions of our flawed legal system, there's only one person responsible for suicide and that is the victim. I don't see why Mr. Swartz thought it was necessary to end his life because of this. I don't want to sound mean and insensitive so I'll stop here

  • JT1234

    You don't see why a 26-year old activist facing 30 years of prison for a minor act of civil disobedience might find suicide the better option?  Really?  You don't see how the prospect of putting a sweet, intelligent, compassionate young man like that into a situation where he could expect daily intimidation, beatings, sexual assault, and the loss of all of the liberties he so valiantly fought for might be a fate worse than death for him?

  • tcliff1

     Nope. I'll give him he benefit of the doubt and say he knew the consequences of his actions before doing so.

    26 years old. Young and full of life. Made a decision to stand up for something he believed in, something that others believe in as well. Yet, when it came time to stand on his soap box and make his case, he choose to kill himself. He could have at least waited until the outcome, who knows, maybe a long, drawn-out court case would have changed a few minds.

    But no, he killed himself. All that for nothing. Weak minds fade into nothing

  • tcliff1

     Okay. Depression, Mental illness. I get it, I've been there.

    So where were his friends and family? Who allowed him to get into this situation? Why would this be MIT's fault?

    A law, unfortunately, is a law. I illegally download movies and music for my own use, and I know the penalties if I get caught.

    It's nobody's fault but his own. Thinking that someone else should be held accountable is foolish

  • Jessicalynn

    He suffered from depression, he was sick and his suicide is not the sign of a weak mind, but of someone that has struggled for a long time with his illness.  

    I am saddened that he succumbed instead of keeping on with the fight.

  • Tracy Mills-Sherman

    How do you know it was not a staged suicide  The government has been doing it for years to shush people.

  • William H. Tylander III

    Its a terrible tragedy and MIT and the Govt no doubt made his troubled life more difficult. But does anybody else find it curious that his family has been so fast to deliver just that message? It seems to me a private tragedy is being exploited at the expense of understanding the circumstances of an apparently debilitating depression.

  • RalfLippold

    The outliers, and rebels, bringing the current reality up in their voice, sometimes in ways that are counter to the rules, and regulations. What #RichardWagner was in his days, a rebel, Aaron was of today's world of the internet. 

    A fast-thinking mind, who was too fast, and bright for this world, not having the boldness to stay persistent for some time longer. A pity that he took this path. May the rest of learn on his lesson, and take positive action that benefits humanity at large. 

    https://www.facebook.com/RalfL... - please share  @fastcompany:twitter 's story, and tag with #pdftribute for free knowledge access via public papers cc @JenniferSertl:twitter @IrmaWilson:twitter