Aaron Swartz, an online activist and founder of the wildly popular social network Reddit, has taken his own life at the age of 26. According to AlterNet, Swartz was facing legal difficulties and struggling with illness and depression.
His attorney Michael Wolf confirmed the news to the MIT newspaper The Tech. “The tragic and heartbreaking information you received is, regrettably, true,” he wrote in an email.
Swartz was indicted in July, 2011 for illegally downloading documents from the massive academic journal storage archive JSTOR with intent to distribute them. JSTOR (pronounced “JAY-store”) stands for Journal Storage, and the archive houses more than 15,000 academic papers and scholarly works. He pleaded not guilty in court in October of 2012.
According to The Tech, “Swartz co-authored the now widely-used RSS 1.0 specification at age 14, was one of the three co-owners of the popular social news site Reddit, and completed a fellowship at Harvard’s Ethics Center Lab on Institutional Corruption. In 2010, he founded DemandProgress.org, a ‘campaign against the Internet censorship bills SOPA/PIPA.’”
Update 6:08 p.m. EST: Swartz’s family and partner released this statement Saturday evening:
Our beloved brother, son, friend, and partner Aaron Swartz hanged himself on Friday in his Brooklyn apartment. We are in shock, and have not yet come to terms with his passing.
Aaron’s insatiable curiosity, creativity, and brilliance; his reflexive empathy and capacity for selfless, boundless love; his refusal to accept injustice as inevitable – these gifts made the world, and our lives, far brighter. We’re grateful for our time with him, to those who loved him and stood with him, and to all of those who continue his work for a better world.
Aaron’s commitment to social justice was profound, and defined his life. He was instrumental to the defeat of an Internet censorship bill; he fought for a more democratic, open, and accountable political system; and he helped to create, build, and preserve a dizzying range of scholarly projects that extended the scope and accessibility of human knowledge. He used his prodigious skills as a programmer and technologist not to enrich himself but to make the Internet and the world a fairer, better place. His deeply humane writing touched minds and hearts across generations and continents. He earned the friendship of thousands and the respect and support of millions more.
Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles.
Today, we grieve for the extraordinary and irreplaceable man that we have lost.
The statement also says rememberances and donations in Swartz’s honor can be made online. Funeral services are scheduled for Tuesday, January 15.
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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