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Aaron Swartz, Reddit Cofounder And Online Activist, Dies At 26

Jan 12, 2013
Originally published on January 14, 2013 8:54 am

He was 14 when he co-authored RSS and later helped found the company that would become the social media website Reddit. Internet activist Aaron Swartz was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment, authorities said Saturday. He was 26.

Update at 7:42 p.m.: Swartz To Be Remembered For 'Technological Virtuosity':

Speaking with weekends on All Things Considered host Jacki Lyden, James Fallows of The Atlantic says Swartz had an enormous following in the technology world of people who "No. 1, admired his technological virtuosity."

Fallows says Swartz was one of the "most influential figures in talking about technology's social, cultural and political effect."

Update at 7:21 p.m.: Family Releases Statement:

Swartz's family and partner released a statement saying they were in shock about his suicide. The statement said Swartz's death was the "product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach" — a reference to a criminal case against the activist involving documents he allegedly stole from MIT and the JSTOR research archive. The family statement reads:

"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."

They praised his "insatiable curiosity, creativity, and brilliance" and his commitment to social justice. A website was set up for people to offer remembrances.

Our original post continues:

A spokesperson for the New York medical examiner says Swartz committed suicide, and news of his death was confirmed by an uncle through a post on MIT's paper The Tech.

Swartz's Web savvy took him from Internet entrepreneur to online activist, co-founding Demand Progress, a group that campaigns for progressive public policy — in particular fighting against Internet censorship.

His crusades boosted his status as something of a folk hero, but also led to skirmishes with the law. In 2009, CNN reports, he was investigated by the FBI after releasing millions of U.S. federal court documents online: "No charges were filed in that case, but on October 5, 2009, he posted online his FBI file that he apparently requested from the agency."

Then, as The New York Times reports:

"... in July 2011, he was indicted on federal charges of gaining illegal access to JSTOR, a subscription-only service for distributing scientific and literary journals, and downloading 4.8 million articles and documents, nearly the entire library.

"Charges in the case, including wire fraud and computer fraud, were pending at the time of Mr. Swartz's death, carrying potential penalties of up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines."

Just Wednesday, JSTOR announced that the archives of more than 1,200 of its journals would be available to the public for free.

Online tributes are blooming as news of Swartz's death spreads. One friend and colleague, Lawrence Lessig, lashed prosecutors in the case for "bullying" Swartz. Some, like Boing Boing's Cory Doctorow delve openly into the depression his friend battled for years — a subject Swartz himself shared publicly. Many have simply taken to Reddit, the forum Swartz fathered, to remember him and explore their loss.


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