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Reddit Cofounder Aaron Swartz Dead From Suicide At 26


Some sad news out of New York City: Aaron Swartz, the digital activist best known for laying the groundwork for massively popular (and powerful) aggregating site Reddit, took his own life yesterday.

MIT's The Tech gives more details about Swartz's short life:

Swartz was indicted in July 2011 by a federal grand jury for allegedly mass downloading documents from the JSTOR online journal archive with the intent to distribute them. He subsequently moved to Brooklyn, New York, where he then worked for Avaaz Foundation, a nonprofit "global web movement to bring people-powered politics to decision-making everywhere." Swartz appeared in court on Sept. 24, 2012 and pleaded not guilty.

The accomplished Swartz co-authored the now widely-used RSS 1.0 specification at age 14, was one of the three co-owners of the popular social news site Reddit, and completed a fellowship at Harvard’s Ethics Center Lab on Institutional Corruption.

In their notice of Swartz's death, CNN included a note he wrote about his inevitable death: "There is a moment, immediately before life becomes no longer worth living, when the world appears to slow down and all its myriad details suddenly become brightly, achingly apparent."

Boing Boing cofounder and a Swartz's friend, Cory Doctorow, said, "Aaron accomplished some incredible things in his life.

"He was one of the early builders of Reddit (someone always turns up to point out that he was technically not a co-founder, but he was close enough as makes no damn), got bought by Wired/Conde Nast, engineered his own dismissal and got cashed out, and then became a full-time, uncompromising, reckless and delightful shit-disturber."

And to think of all the things he could have still accomplished...

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  1. Another angel has left us. I am so sorry.

    Posted by: UFFDA | Jan 12, 2013 1:41:30 PM

  2. I think that it is very important to point out that even after JSTOR refused to press charges, the United States Department of Justice hounded him by threatening him with felonies that would have meant 35 years imprisonment and a million dollar fine. It was a witch hunt.

    Reddit is the least of his accomplishments. Among other things, he co-authored the first RSS specification, co-founded Demand Progress (a group that was vital in defeating SOPA and PIPA), and was instrumental in the Open Science movement- the movement to make scientific research, data and dissemination accessible to all levels of an inquiring society.

    Posted by: Eric | Jan 12, 2013 1:52:12 PM

  3. FYI, the Boing Boing piece has the best info. The author, who seems to have known Aaron well, speculates that fear of being imprisoned (which was very possible) was a motivating factor, in addition to depression.

    " This morning, a lot of people are speculating that Aaron killed himself because he was worried about doing time. That might be so. Imprisonment is one of my most visceral terrors, and it's at least credible that fear of losing his liberty, of being subjected to violence (and perhaps sexual violence) in prison, was what drove Aaron to take this step.

    But Aaron was also a person who'd had problems with depression for many years. He'd written about the subject publicly, and talked about it with his friends. "

    And this reminder to others suffering depression.

    " Because whatever problems Aaron was facing, killing himself didn't solve them. Whatever problems Aaron was facing, they will go unsolved forever. If he was lonely, he will never again be embraced by his friends. If he was despairing of the fight, he will never again rally his comrades with brilliant strategies and leadership. If he was sorrowing, he will never again be lifted from it.

    Depression strikes so many of us. I've struggled with it, been so low I couldn't see the sky, and found my way back again, though I never thought I would. Talking to people, doing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, seeking out a counsellor or a Samaritan -- all of these have a chance of bringing you back from those depths. Where there's life, there's hope. Living people can change things, dead people cannot."

    Posted by: Caliban | Jan 12, 2013 1:54:47 PM

  4. What a waste.

    Posted by: Brian in Texas | Jan 12, 2013 2:14:08 PM

  5. This is such sad news. Aaron was a creative and brilliant human being with an incredibly bright future. I'm so sorry to hear that his demons got the best of him. RIP Aaron. You will be missed.

    Posted by: Roy Jiveinthe415 | Jan 12, 2013 2:21:08 PM

  6. I appreciate that this is news regardless, but was he gay?

    Posted by: Dave | Jan 12, 2013 2:47:43 PM

  7. Downloading from JSTOR? What a crappy thing to be persecuted for. Knowledge for all!

    Posted by: niles | Jan 12, 2013 2:48:17 PM

  8. whats jstor?

    Posted by: t | Jan 12, 2013 3:05:57 PM

  9. JSTOR = Subscription library database of published academic work.

    Actually it was my understanding that the Federal Gov't, not JSTOR (or others) that have pushed for "open access."

    It is now official policy that ANY publication resulting from research paid for with public money MUST be made available to the public FREE of charge.

    Prior to this even the author could be in violation of copyright if the author emailed or shared a publication with someone.

    Posted by: QJ201 | Jan 12, 2013 3:34:25 PM

  10. Aaron "hooked up with guys" but didn't identify as lgbt. Whether he identified as one of us or not, we've lost another one of our own to suicide. This is happening far too often.

    Posted by: IJelly | Jan 12, 2013 3:35:55 PM

  11. @Caliban: "Because whatever problems Aaron was facing, killing himself didn't solve them."

    Did you write this? Or did someone else?

    Because whoever wrote is DEAD wrong. Suicide completely solved this young man's problem for HIM. It may've created lesser problems for the people he left behind, who will have to deal with his loss. But that pain is dissipated among many people, while the pain he felt was focused entirely on him. And now he suffers it no more.

    So stop trying to make it sound as if suicide was a futile option. For him, it was the best option. Respect his choice, whether you agree with it or not.

    Posted by: Respect The Choice. | Jan 12, 2013 3:40:30 PM

  12. More from The Electronic Frontier Foundation:

    Posted by: Eric | Jan 12, 2013 3:43:16 PM

  13. Tim Berners-Lee ‏@timberners_lee:

    "Aaron dead. World wanderers, we have lost a wise elder. Hackers for right, we are one down. Parents all, we have lost a child. Let us weep."

    Glenn Greenwald ‏@ggreenwald:

    "For those who don't know: here's a great article by @binarybits about the wildly excessive prosecution of Aaron Swartz"

    Posted by: Eric | Jan 12, 2013 3:50:47 PM

  14. @Respect The Choice

    No, I didn't write that. It's from the article on Boing Boing. But while I respect that suicide *can* be a valid choice for some, I'd argue it's the WRONG choice for most people, particularly young people, absent an agonizing, debilitating, or terminal illness. Trite though it may seem, suicide often is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, particularly for a 26 year old no matter his talents or brilliance.

    Posted by: Caliban | Jan 12, 2013 4:31:55 PM

  15. I honestly cannot believe that someone, even on this site's insane comments, is defending suicide as a valid choice. I've suffered from massive depression and certainly considered ending things. But I could never do that to my friends and family. Things can change.

    A friend killed himself last year and it's been harrowing for all of us who knew him.

    Posted by: Paul R | Jan 12, 2013 4:33:45 PM

  16. @PaulR: You're just as fascist as the pro-lifers who scream that abortion is NEVER a legitimate (if difficult) option. Or just like the fundagelicals who scream and rant that sexuality is ALWAYS a choice, and that homosexuality is ALWAYS the wrong choice.

    I lost my partner to suicide several years ago, and while I miss him profoundly every day, I have NEVER disrespected his autonomy, or the legitimacy of his choice. And I would NEVER have had him continue to live and struggle with mental illness, chronic depression, drug addition, and a physical illness that was slowly taking his life and had already robbed him of a significant quality of life. As much as I miss him, the pain that HE experienced daily was greater than the pain I feel from his loss. I would NEVER be so selfish as to demand that he continue living so that I don't have to deal with pain.

    I deal with my own depression on a daily basis, and every morning when I wake up, I choose to live. Or not. So far, I've decided to continue, but one day I may well decide I've had enough. And that should be every individual's right.

    Clearly, people have difference levels of pain, and different levels of coping. Choose your own course for yourself, and let others choose theirs, without disrespecting their autonomy or the legitimacy of their choice.

    Posted by: Respect The Choice. | Jan 12, 2013 5:10:26 PM

  17. RESPECT - I entirely agree. It's nobody's elses business.

    Posted by: UFFDA | Jan 12, 2013 5:31:40 PM

  18. Now I've heard it all. As far as we know, this guy wasn't destitute, he didn't have a terminal illness, and he obviously wasn't so stupid that there was no hope of him making it in the world. As for the case against him, he was not facing immediate incarceration and it's hard for me to believe his expensive lawyers were telling him things were hopeless. So all that is obvious now is that he was severely depressed, which is a medical condition for which many treatment options are available. Let's face it...our society, especially the aspiring upper-middle classes, still attaches a stigma to mental health care. This helps explain why Adam Lanza's family didn't proactively deal with his problems even though they had the means to and it might explain this, too. I'm not some nutty pro-life Catholic, obviously. If you have a painful, terminal condition, a doctor should have a right to discuss euthanasia options with you. That doesn't mean suicide should suddenly be considered a front-line therapy for clinical depression in an otherwise healthy 26 year old, Mr. "Respect the Choice"! As it stands, neither you nor I have enough information to respect, or not to respect, his choice.

    (BTW The so-called Hippocratic Oath is an outmoded, self-contradictory dinosaur from an ancient era, which originally prohibited abortion - then, as now, a reflection of a patriarchal worldview.)

    Posted by: EchtKultig | Jan 12, 2013 5:52:40 PM

  19. "RESPECT - I entirely agree. It's nobody's elses business."

    I entirely disagree. Any non-natural death is everyone's business. We've decided that the Newtown school shooting is worthy of a debate about further gun control. The benefit of which I'm frankly skeptical of...but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be having the debate. If someone drunk runs over someone else in a car, that is society's business because we take away their license and throw them in jail. Someone dying from untreated clinical depression, and perhaps compounded by an over-zealous federal prosecutor's actions, seems just as much my business as the other two.

    There must be lawyers here. What is the history of case law in terms of an original complainant not wanting to pursue charges, as was the case with Aaron. Surely that can be admitted into evidence and helps the defense? If I were on a jury, it would help me decide there was no point to pursuing legal action against him. I admit I wasn't in the mood to read about the case and might be misunderstanding something about JSTOR's current role.

    Posted by: EchtKultig | Jan 12, 2013 6:03:04 PM

  20. here is aaron's own controversial take on gay sexuality versus gay identity.

    Posted by: cogboy | Jan 12, 2013 6:07:55 PM

  21. A terrible tragedy, though I have a really big problem with people saying, "this means he was unjustly hounded by authorities." Sorry, but he was attempting a MASSIVE infringement of copyrights. That's illegal and should remain so. Of course, that's no reason to take your own life.

    Posted by: jd | Jan 12, 2013 6:21:37 PM

  22. Sorry, but I don't believe your comments unless you have no emotions.

    Posted by: Paul R | Jan 12, 2013 6:27:17 PM

  23. Thanks for that bit of insight. I don't care if this sounds presumptuous: you can be a brilliant internet entrepreneur and still be a stupid kid. At least about some things, and in this case he was. He might have a high IQ but I seriously doubt he had the background in human population genetics to be this dismissive: "They even provided a ridiculous genetic explanation for how a species with a small percentage [of] gay people might evolve." It reads, as is so often the case, like someone more anxious to convince himself than others. Every bit of real evidence suggests that, sure, some miniscule fraction of people can really be polyamorous and have absolutely no partner gender preferences, but most people have an arousal pattern fixed at a very era age and are therefore "born" gay or straight. That human society has discouraged it - and many learned to play straight - since the evolution of formal religion (but probably not before that) is immaterial. It's sad he couldn't see that. Sounds like a bad apple in his family or immediate group of friends poisoned his mind with some bad ideas. That's a shame.
    But many people struggle with that w/o killing themselves. Clearly the bigger fish to fry here is whoever saw the warning signs and didn't force him to get some help.

    Posted by: EchtKultig | Jan 12, 2013 6:28:13 PM

  24. Oops...EARLY age haha.
    Oh well. I hardly knew who he was and certainly didn't know he was gay/"struggling". (and therein lies the problem) I don't know why I'm so passionate about it, other than having been suicidal for a period in college and perhaps being relieved that people around me didn't give up so easily as some here would advocate.

    Posted by: EchtKultig | Jan 12, 2013 6:30:45 PM

  25. @PaulR: And I don't believe your humanity unless you simply have no capacity for empathy.

    Posted by: Respect The Choice. | Jan 12, 2013 6:37:08 PM

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