Web mourns suicide of Internet folk hero and information activist Aaron Swartz - Macleans.ca

Web mourns suicide of Internet folk hero and information activist Aaron Swartz

Reddit co-founder remembered for dedication to the freedom and flow of information



Aaron Swartz is being remembered as a shit disturber who devoted his much-too-short life to liberating data.

The Internet activist committed suicide in New York on Friday. He was 26.  “The tragic and heartbreaking information you received is, regrettably, true,” Swartz’s attorney Elliot R. Peters confirmed in an email to The Tech, which broke the news.

The New York Times is reporting that Swartz hanged himself — details confirmed by the family in a release late Saturday afternoon:

“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.


Swartz is being celebrated for co-authoring RSS code at age 14. He created DemandProgress.org to campaign against SOPA/PIPA and the website theinfo.org. In July 2011, he was arrested for stealing some four million academic documents from JSTOR, a nonprofit digital archive.

Swartz’s family said decisions made by the U.S. Attorney’s office and MIT in the wake of that case had a role in the tragedy:

“The U.S. 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.”

In a statement on its website, JSTOR extended its condolences:

“We have had inquiries about JSTOR’s view of this sad event given the charges against Aaron and the trial scheduled for April. The case is one that we ourselves had regretted being drawn into from the outset, since JSTOR’s mission is to foster widespread access to the world’s body of scholarly knowledge. At the same time, as one of the largest archives of scholarly literature in the world, we must be careful stewards of the information entrusted to us by the owners and creators of that content. To that end, Aaron returned the data he had in his possession and JSTOR settled any civil claims we might have had against him in June 2011.”

The New York Times once called Swartz an Internet folk hero.

“Aaron built surprising new things that changed the flow of information around the world,” Susan Crawford, a professor at the Cardozo School of Law in New York, told the Times.

“It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture,” Swartz wrote in a manifesto in 2008. “We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file-sharing networks.”

Early Saturday morning, Cory Doctorow reflected on the news about his friend:

“Aaron accomplished some incredible things in his life. He was one of the early builders of Reddit (someone always turns up to point out that he was technically not a co-founder, but he was close enough as makes no damn), got bought by Wired/Conde Nast, engineered his own dismissal and got cashed out, and then became a full-time, uncompromising, reckless and delightful shit disturber.”

The website Public.Resource.Org went dark Saturday in honour of Swartz: “Aaron Swartz made our world more free,” the organization said. “Be Free, Internet. Thank you, Aaron, for what you gave us.”

In a post Saturday morning, James Fallows of the Atlantic said Swartz had a big effect in a very short time. “Swartz was a strong and effective advocate of untrammeled information and knowledge-flow in all directions, and vigilance against control or de-facto censorship efforts by corporate or governmental interests.”

Family members said a commitment to social justice defined Swartz’s 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.


As news spread, Swartz was remembered across social media by Internet pioneers, social media gurus and Twitter users:

Mourning Aaron Swartz: ‘One of the smartest and best’

Aaron Swartz is being remembered this morning as a shit-disturber who devoted his much-too-short life to liberating data. The Internet activist committed suicide in New York on Friday. He was 26.

Storified by Maclean’s Magazine· Sat, Jan 12 2013 13:17:27

I just woke up to find out that my old friend Aaron Swartz committed suicide. If you are depressed/hopeless, please talk to your friends.Cory Doctorow
My obit for Aaron Swartz: http://boingboing.net/2013/01/12/rip-aaron-swartz.htmlCory Doctorow
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.Tim Berners-Lee
Shocked and saddened to hear about the suicide of Aaron Swartz, whom I first met when he was 14. @doctorow’s eulogy http://bit.ly/VSk8TdTim O’Reilly
A sad state of affairs, to be driven to the edge. Goodbye #AaronSwartz, you will be missed. http://nyti.ms/XtJpSw http://pic.twitter.com/voQbtxJNleroydouglas
The front page of Hacker News today is a testament to how much Aaron Swartz was valued. http://www.aaronsw.com/2002/continuity #rip http://pic.twitter.com/ZkEQJDywGiles Copp
I’m uncharacteristically upset about Aaron Swartz’s suicide.Arturo Prat
RIP Aaron Swartz http://pic.twitter.com/VziCd5miNeal Bicker
RT @apblake: Aaron Swartz is trending worldwide. And rightfully so. Rest in peace, Aaron. Let’s all teach someone something today. http://pic.twitter.com/ZpOY9LXgC. Alan Pritchard
R.I.P Aaron Swartz http://pic.twitter.com/oIIGPnrwMehrdad
Utterly useless Lance Armstrong news bracketed by the incredibly sad suicide of Aaron Swartz. http://pic.twitter.com/2h6xjzQ3Ron Lipke
Cory Doctorow’s sad and moving obituary in honor of Aaron Swartz, who killed himself yesterday – http://bit.ly/UdKWvBKim Zetter
What a shitty, horrible tragedy. Aaron Swartz was a testament to human brilliance, passion, and humility. The world is significantly worse off today than it was yesterday. God dammit. http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/dweckChris Johnson
Sad day for everyone who knows who Aaron Swartz is (was). http://pic.twitter.com/od4FJRyDSimon Janes
Woke up to hear of Aaron Swartz’s suicide. Devastating. One of the smartest and best. Lost.Glenn Fleishman
Pour a little out for Aaron Swartz.Griff
"Why waste life doing something dumb." – Aaron Swartz http://pic.twitter.com/d2WgalcIAhmad Ktaech
R.I.P. Aaron Swartz http://pic.twitter.com/zSGLHjjmMarshall Hodge
Rest in Peace. RT A Chat With Aaron Swartz http://j.mp/10p2ACy (via @newsycombinator)Miguel Angel Cardona
"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," Aaron Swartz, famed Internet activist, wrote in a 2007 post entitled "A Moment Before Dying." He committed suicide today. http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/12/us/new-york-reddit-founder-suicide/index.htmlJohn Vanderhoef
"Living people can change things, dead people cannot." – @doctorow on how depression & suicide robs the world. http://boingboing.net/2013/01/12/rip-aaron-swartz.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+boingboing%2FiBag+%28Boing+Boing%29Chris Tackett
You know there was a copyright act that memorialised Sonny Bono? How about an Aaron Swartz Copyright Act that made things better again?Kevin Marks

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