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

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]

About the author

My writing career has taken me all round the houses over the past decade and a half--from grumpy teens and hungover rock bands in the U.K., where I was born, via celebrity interviews, health, tech and fashion in Madrid and Paris, before returning to London, where I now live. For the past five years I've been writing about technology and innovation for U.S.