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January 11: Death of an Internet Activist

January 11, 2016

0113_swartzAaron Swartz, 26, an activist for the free flow of information on the Internet, died a suicide on this date in 2013. At the time he was facing federal charges of computer fraud for hacking into JSTOR, the academic journal subscription service, from which he had downloaded and made available for free at least twenty percent of its enormous archive. At age 14, Swartz helped developed the code for RSS (Rich Site Summary), which aggregates and updates information constantly for subscribers. But he “led an often itinerant life that included dropping out of Stanford, forming companies and organizations, and becoming a fellow at Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics,” writes John Schwartz at the New York Times. “He formed a company that merged with Reddit, the popular news and information site. He also co-founded Demand Progress, a group that promotes online campaigns on social justice issues — including a successful effort, with other groups, to oppose a Hollywood-backed Internet piracy bill.” Swartz struggled with severe depression as well as chronic pain.

“The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations.” —Aaron Swartz