Aaron Swartz, Co-founder of Reddit and Demand Progress, an online activist group, committed suicide Friday in his New York City apartment at age 26.
Swartz had one of the most impressive portofios for such a young man. At age 14, Swartz co-authorized an early version of RSS. Later on in his life, Swartz helped found an Internet activist group called Demand Progress as well as, and probably his real claim to fame, co-founding the site that eventually became Reddit.
In July 2011, Swartz was arrested for allegedly downloading approximately 4 million academic journals from JSTOR with the intent to distribute them for free over P2p file-sharing sites.
Swartz appeared in court in July and pleaded not guilty to those charges. Just two days before Swartz’s suicide, JSTOR began allowing free but limited access to their archives.
Swartz had been battling with depression for some time now, as seen in one of his blog posts:
Your face falls. Perhaps you cry. You feel worthless. You wonder whether it’s worth going on. Everything you think about seems bleak – the things you’ve done, the things you hope to do, the people around you. You want to lie in bed and keep the lights off. Depressed mood is like that, only it doesn’t come for any reason and it doesn’t go for any either. Go outside and get some fresh air or cuddle with a loved one and you don’t feel any better, only more upset at being unable to feel the joy that everyone else seems to feel. Everything gets colored by the sadness.
At best, you tell yourself that your thinking is irrational, that it is simply a mood disorder, that you should get on with your life. But sometimes that is worse. You feel as if streaks of pain are running through your head, you thrash your body, you search for some escape but find none.
The hacktivist group Anonymous went up in arms against the MIT tribute page for Aaron Swartz, by taking the site hostage and posting a message to the US government:
“Whether or not the government contributed to his suicide, the government’s prosecution of Swartz was a grotesque miscarriage of justice, a distorted and perverse shadow of the justice that Aaron died fighting for – freeing the publicly-funded scientific literature from a publishing system that makes it inaccessible to most of those who paid for it – enabling the collective betterment of the world through the facilitation of sharing – an ideal that we should all support,” the statement read.
However, Anonymous has freed the MIT website and formally apologized to the institution for borrowing the site.