The Internet world lost a hero. Freedom of information and Internet privacy activist Aaron Swartz was found dead by his girlfriend in his New York apartment on Friday morning.
It is too early for the coroner’s report, but family members have said it appears that the young programmer and political organizer committed suicide by hanging himself.
Swartz began making headlines in technology news when he helped create the popular and widely used RSS at the age of 14. Despite many legal troubles for alleged hacking, he won a major victory for his cause recently when one of the companies he had legal dealings with, JSTOR, announced that a portion of its extensive archives are now available to the public for free.
The RSS pioneer was facing some serious prison time for his latest crime, which alleged hacking, downloading, and releasing millions of research papers from various scholarly sources stored in the exclusive academic database of JSTOR.
JSTOR is a source that is available as part of many college students tuition and is the main location for accessing information to write academic papers. For anyone who wants to learn, it is a goldmine of information that covers a wide range of subjects.
While the Internet community morns the death of this brilliant programmer, political organizer, and Internet activist, many will ask “why?” Why did this young man, with so much talent, intelligence, and potential take his own life? Did he really fear he was going to prison for the next 35 years?
While that may have weighed on his mind, Swartz admitted in a 2007 blog post that he was depressed; although it should be noted that many people who suffer from depression don’t kill themselves.
What put Swartz over the edge may not be known for a while or ever. World history is full of unexplained suicides. Hopefully something good can come from his death and bring more, needed attention to mental health and suicide prevention.
Photo credit: Fred Benenson
Â©Christine M. Dantz 2013