Aaron Swartz, the co-founder of Reddit and a well-known online activist, has been found dead in New York City. The 26 year old is believed to have committed suicide in his home.
Swartzâs lawyer, Elliot R Peters, email the MIT University newspaper, The Tech, to confirm the news. He said, âThe tragic and heartbreaking information you received is, regrettably, true.â
Swartz was facing a lawsuit over allegations that he has downloaded millions of documents from the online research group, JSTOR. He pleaded not guilty but if he had been found guilty, he would have faced prison time. The organization, Demand Progress, which Swartz helped to found, compared the allegations against Swartz to âtrying to put someone in hail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library.â
Swartz’s friend and fellow activist Cory Doctorow posted a tribute onÂ Boing Boing. On meeting Swartz as a teenager, Doctorow writes: “Aaron had powerful, deeply felt ideals, but he was also always an impressionable young man, someone who often found himself moved by new passions. He always seemed somehow in search of mentors, and none of those mentors ever seemed to match the impossible standards he held them (and himself) to.”
Swartz was not only one of the early builders of the social news site Reddit, he became a fully-fledged online activist. He helped to put a large amount of data into the public domain, which attracted the attention of the FBI. There are many theories as to why Swartz was still being prosecuted after MIT and JSTOR backed down over the lawsuit. Some say that the FBI were still annoyed that Swartz did not pay for what they see as his wrongdoings.
Many have paid their respects on Twitter with the inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee writing Â “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.”
This was found on a tumblr blog dedicated to Aaron:
Aaronâs 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.
Aaronâs 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. Attorneyâs office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorneyâs 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 communityâs most cherished principles.
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