The life and death of Aaron Swartz


Aaron SwartzAaron Swartz or now more popularly known as “The Internet’s Own Boy”, was the man behind the development of the web feed technology called RSS and the also the social news website Reddit. Aaron was also known to be an Internet Hacktivist, a computer programmer, writer and a political organizer. On the evening of January 11, 2013, Swartz was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment because of charges that he faced due to computer crimes.

Aaron was born in Chicago, Illinois, the eldest son of Jewish parents Susan and Robert Swartz. After leaving high school in the 10th grade he joined a course at the Chicago are college. At the young age of 13, Swartz won an ArsDigita Prize, given to young people who create “useful, educational, and collaborative” noncommercial websites. He later went on to attend the Stanford University and while in his freshman year, started the software company, Infogami.

In the year 2005, Infogami merged with Reditt, a social news website. Initially, Reditt found it difficult to make money, but the site later gained in popularity, with millions of users visiting it each month. In 2008, Swartz founded Watchdog.net, “the good government site with teeth,” to aggregate and visualize data about politicians. Aaron was also instrumental in supporting campaigns to prevent the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

The JSTOR controversy:

While attending Harvard University as a research fellow, Aaron Swartz used JSTOR, a digital repository, to download a large number of academic journal articles through MIT’s computer network over the course of a few weeks in late 2010 and early 2011. Apparently, visitors to MIT’s “open campus” were authorized to access JSTOR through its network. On the night of January 6, 2011, Swartz was arrested near the Harvard campus by MIT police and a U.S. Secret Service agent.

On the evening of January 11, 2013, Swartz was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment by his partner. Swartz suffered from debilitating ulcerative colitis — a bowel condition — as well as crippling depression. His depression became worse as he and his family spent millions defending against felony charges and a steep prison sentence he faced.

Brian Knappenberger’ recently released a brilliant documentary named the “The Internet’s Own Boy” on the life and death of Aaron Swartz. Swartz had been in a two-year legal battle for using MIT’s network to systematically download 4.8 million academic journal articles from JSTOR. He was facing $1 million in fines and 35 years in prison.

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