Tech World Saddened by Death of Internet Activist Aaron Swartz

The Atlantic
Tech World Saddened by Death of Internet Activist Aaron Swartz
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Tech World Saddened by Death of Internet Activist Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz was one of the earliest members of the Reddit team, helped build the first RSS program, and was by all accounts a genius at a very young age. Swartz committed suicide on January 11. He was 26 years old. 

RELATED: Reddit's Aaron Swartz Charged with Data Theft

MIT's The Tech's Anne Cai and Boing Boing's Cory Doctorow first reported the news of Swartz's death. Cai confirmed it with his uncle and attorney. Swartz is probably best known for his contributions building the first RSS model when he was only a 14-year-old, and then a few years later for helping build what would become the social networking site Reddit. Swartz also founded the advocacy group Demand Progress. Swartz suffered from some personal problems and had blogged about his depression before, which you can find on his personal blog if you're so inclined to go looking. (We weren't.) 

RELATED: Copied Academic Papers Appear on Pirate Bay to Protest Arrest

Swartz will also possibly be remembered for breaking into MIT and downloading nearly five million documents from online archive JSTOR in order to distribute them more freely. He was charged by prosecutors in Massachusetts even after MIT and JSTOR elected not to continue with the case. 

Doctorow addresses speculation that some of Swartz's legal troubles may have led him to take the action he did, but there's also this touching passage about the helplessness of those close to people suffering from depression:

I don't know if it's productive to speculate about that, but here's a thing that I do wonder about this morning, and that I hope you'll think about, too. I don't know for sure whether Aaron understood that any of us, any of his friends, would have taken a call from him at any hour of the day or night. I don't know if he understood that wherever he was, there were people who cared about him, who admired him, who would get on a plane or a bus or on a video-call and talk to him.

We challenge you to read the whole thing and finish dry-eyed. 

It's clear from the outpouring of emotion on Twitter and across other networks that Swartz touched a lot of people during his short time. Quinn Norton, a close friend and lover, posted this personal essay Swartz wrote (that she pressured him to take down) about her on Saturday morning. MetaFilter founder Matt Haughey wrote a beautiful goodbye to his friend on the MetaFilter thread about Swartz's passing. The whole conversation is worth reading. John Gruber called Swartz "an enormous intellect — again, a brilliant mind," who also had "an enormous capacity for empathy."

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