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In Memory of Aaron Swartz


Aaron Swartz killed himself on Friday, January 11 in New York City. He was twenty-six years old. In his family’s official statement, they say:

Aaron's death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts US 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.

Please don’t look for comfort in the disingenuous argument that Swartz was already battling depression since 2007. Depression is as much a trigger of stress and anxiety as it is itself triggered by negative experiences, by stress and anxiety. I can imagine that being hounded by the US Justice Department and haunted by the prospect of incarceration for life is an ample source of both.

But I won’t pretend that I knew much about Swartz. In fact I’d never heard that he was an early RSS software developer nor that he was one the creators of the social news site Reddit. Like many others, I first became aware of Swartz’s activities when, in July 2011, he was arrested for using his Harvard subscription to download a vast array of academic articles—4.8 million we are told—from the JSTOR database, allegedly with the intention of making them publicly available.

Read the full article here.