The news about the suicide of 26-year old internet activist Aaron Swartz, who helped create Reddit and other useful platforms online, broke hours after he had passed on January 11th. For people involved in internet activism, free information movements, and the legal system set up around computer crime in this country, Aaron’s death is still being digested by many.
Aaron was one of the developers behind the popular RSS platform that helps to drive the web and keep people informed. He was an equal partner in the popular website Reddit, as well as the creator of the Open Library. He was always a proponent of a more open and free web, part of the philosophy behind the web 2.0 movement. As a testament to his intelligence, he became involved in all of this work at the young age of 13 and many of his accomplishments that helped the open web were finished by the time he was 20.
Aaron was instrumental in fighting back the poorly written web law known as SOPA. He created a group called DemandProgress to protect the freedom of online content and fight back against laws that fought freedom.
In his mid 20s, Aaron was caught up in legal matters involving the sharing of documents. Some were dropped, but others – like the downloading and sharing of academic articles from JStor at MIT – were pursued aggressively by the government, although JStor asked for the charges to be dropped.
No one knows for sure what caused him to commit suicide, but many supporters believe the aggressive tactics of the prosecution in his criminal case played a huge role. There has been an outpouring of support for Aaron and his family since the news broke. The web remembers those who have fought to make it better and to protect it.
Current laws on the books regarding computer and content crime have been heavily criticized in the past week for being excessive, cruel, and unusual punishment compared to many other violent and harmful crimes. Aaron Swartz will certainly be missed, but his death and his legacy will certainly not be a waste.