Dead People You Should Know: Aaron Swartz

Born: Aaron Hillel Swartz 
D.O.B.: November 8, 1986 
Died: January 11, 2013 
Cause of Death: Suicide (hanging) 
Known for: Creator of RSS, Reddit, Creative Commons 
Cool Quote: “Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves.”

The internet lost a hero on January 11, 2013. Aaron Swartz spearheaded some of the most innovative and important movements in the history of the web and was celebrated by users across the globe. His activism in the name of information exchange, creative re-imagination of web feed format, and progressive approach to creative licensing made Swartz a revered figure in the online community. His impact is still omnipresent. From his development of the RSS feed to his foundation of the popular site Reddit, Swartz has permanently changed the face of the Internet and will go down in history as a pioneer.

Swartz was born in Chicago to Jewish parents. From a young age, Swartz was fascinated with the Internet and immersed himself in the study of computer programming and Internet culture. By 10###sup/sup### grade, Swartz had surpassed all of his high school requirements and enrolled in classes at a local college. By 15, Swartz was involved in a number of successful start-ups and helped to author the influential RSS 1.0 web syndication specification. Swartz went on to attend Stanford University where he started the company Infogami. In 2005, Infogami was merged with the website Reddit, which eventually gained massive popularity as a forum on which users could post links to other sites. In 2008, Swartz penned the influential Guerilla Open Access Manifesto, which called for a higher exchange of free information on the web and a decrease in restrictions on what could be accessed. Swartz used his newfound fame to advocate for the election of left-leaning politicians and supported many causes such as Net Neutrality and universal healthcare. In 2009, Swartz wrote, "I spend my days experimenting with new ways to get progressive policies enacted and progressive politicians elected." Swartz used his political capital to help prevent the passage of the highly controversial “Stop Online Piracy Act”. Eventually, due in large part to Swartz's activism, the bill was tabled and victory was declared in all corners of the web.

On January 6, 2011, Swartz was arrested in Cambridge, Massachusetts on felony charges of breaking and entering. Swartz was accused of downloading a large quantity of academic journals from MIT’s computer network. He was charged with wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer and recklessly damaging a protected computer. Swartz’s criminal sentence was raised to 50 years in prison and over $1 million in fines on September of 2012 when his criminal charges were upped from 4 felony counts to 13. According to White House Counsel John Dean, the ensuing trial featured “overzealous” prosecution, ending in what appeared to be almost certain conviction and jail time.

Aaron Swartz committed suicide in his apartment in Brooklyn on January 11, 2013. After his death, all charges against Swartz were dropped. Swartz’s death inspired memorial services, protests and articles across the country in defense of his actions. Prosecutors were blamed for their frivolous pursuit of the young activist and a petition calling for the lead prosecutor, Carmen Ortizto resign was sent to the White House. Aaron Swartz left a legacy of innovation and integrity and will forever be remembered as a hero of the Internet.


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