He was 14 when he co-authored RSS and founded the company that later became the social media website Reddit. On Saturday, Internet activist Aaron Swartz was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment, authorities say. He was 26.
A spokesperson for the New York medical examiner says Swartz hanged himself, and news of his death was confirmed by an uncle through a post on MIT’s paper The Tech.
Swartz’s Web savvy took him from Internet entrepreneur to online activist, co-founding Demand Progress, a group that campaigns for progressive public policy – in particular fighting against Internet censorship.
His crusades boosted his status as something of a folk hero, but also led to skirmishes with the law. In 2009, CNN reports, he was investigated by the FBI after releasing millions of U.S. federal court documents online: “No charges were filed in that case, but on October 5, 2009, he posted online his FBI file that he apparently requested from the agency.”
Then, as The New York Times reports:
“… in July 2011, he was indicted on federal charges of gaining illegal access to JSTOR, a subscription-only service for distributing scientific and literary journals, and downloading 4.8 million articles and documents, nearly the entire library.
“Charges in the case, including wire fraud and computer fraud, were pending at the time of Mr. Swartz’s death, carrying potential penalties of up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines.”
Just Wednesday, JSTOR announced that the archives of more than 1,200 of its journals would be available to the public for free.
Online tributes are blooming as news of Swartz’s death spreads. One friend and colleague, Lawrence Lessig, lashed prosecutors in the case for “bullying” Swartz. Some, like Boing Bong’s Cory Doctorow delve openly into the depression his friend battled for years – a subject Swartz himself shared publicly. Many have simply taken to Reddit, the forum Swartz fathered, to remember him and explore their loss.