What a miserable thing to wake up to. Aaron Swartz, former Reddit co-owner, committed suicide yesterday in New York City at the age of 26. That’s more or less the extent of what we know at this point, and it’s enough to be heartbreaking as it is. Whether you approve of his actions or not, Swartz has had a major impact on the Internet as a whole. Not only was he essentially a co-founder of Reddit, but he also helped found Demand Progress, which fights for civil rights among other things. In short, his legacy lives on, but he’ll definitely be missed.
There’s been a lot of speculation going around as to why Swartz committed suicide, and many have pointed to his dispute with the law over his use of JSTOR. Here’s a snippet of our story on the matter that explains exactly what went down:
Starting in September 2010, Swartz purchased a laptop, registered it with a false name and began running a script to download as many JSTOR articles as possible. Once JSTOR detected the script and blocked his IP, Swartz took more measures such as changing his IP and purchasing a second laptop until JSTOR access was blocked for the whole of the MIT campus. When the block was lifted weeks later, Swartz allegedly entered a network closet, hardwired into the network, restarted his script and hid the laptop and several hard-drives under a box to avoid discovery.
They charged him with unlawfully obtaining information and recklessly damaging a protected computer and basically threw the book at him in the summer of 2011. The suggested correlation is that the case wasn’t going well, with a decent chance that Swartz would end up serving time, and he took his life because of it.
In reality, Swartz has publicly acknowledged that he’s battled depression in the past. While the JSTOR debacle certainly played its part, it’s impossible to say exactly what was going through his mind. Facing jail time is no joke, and someone like Swartz with a penchant for freedom probably wouldn’t handle that well, but then neither would most folks.
Whatever the case may be, he’s gone.
- Here’s our article on the JSTOR debacle
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