Today is the 34th birthday of the programmer and internet activist Aaron Swartz. He fought for net neutrality, open source, and transparency. Sadly, he also dies for those things. What you can do to continue the fight:
The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left. It’s now our job to continue to make it a better place.
NAME: Aaron Hillel Swartz
DATE OF BIRTH: November 8, 1986
PLACE OF BIRTH: Highland Park, Illinois, U.S.
DATE OF DEATH: January 11, 2013 (aged 26)
PLACE OF DEATH: Brooklyn, New York City
CAUSE OF DEATH: Suicide by hanging
REMAINS: Buried, Shalom Memorial Park, Arlington Heights, IL
ALMA MATER: Stanford University
OCCUPATION: Software developer, writer, internet activist
ORGANIZATIONS: Creative Commons (development), Reddit (co-founder), Watchdog.net, Open Library, DeadDrop, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Demand Progress (co-founder), ThoughtWorks, Tor2web
ArsDigita Prize (2000)
American Library Association’s James Madison Award (posthumously)
EFF Pioneer Award 2013 (posthumously)
Internet Hall of Fame 2013 (posthumously)
BEST KNOWN FOR: American computer programmer and Internet activist was regarded by many as a programming wizard who led a crusade to make information on the Internet freely available to all.
Swartz was born in Highland Park, Illinois, the eldest son of Jewish parents Susan and Robert Swartz and brother of Noah and Benjamin. His father had founded the software firm Mark Williams Company. Swartz immersed himself in the study of computers, programming, the Internet, and Internet culture. He attended North Shore Country Day School, a small private school near Chicago, until 9th grade. Swartz left high school in the 10th grade, and enrolled in courses at a Chicago area college.
In 1999, when he was 13 years old he created the website Theinfo.org, a collaborative online library. Theinfo.org made Swartz the winner of the ArsDigita Prize, given to young people who create “useful, educational, and collaborative” noncommercial websites. At age 14, he became a member of the working group that authored the RSS 1.0 web syndication specification.
Swartz attended Stanford University, but dropped out after his first year.
During Swartz’s first year at Stanford, he applied to Y Combinator’s very first Summer Founders Program, proposing to work on a startup called Infogami, designed as a flexible content management system to allow the creation of rich and visually interesting websites or a form of wiki for structured data. After working on Infogami with co-founder Simon Carstensen over the summer of 2005, Aaron opted not to return to Stanford, choosing instead to continue to develop and seek funding for Infogami.
When Infogami failed to find further funding, Y-Combinator organizers suggested that Infogami merge with Reddit, which it did in November 2005, resulting in the formation of a new firm, Not a Bug, devoted to promoting both products. As a result of this merger, Swartz was given the title of co-founder of Reddit. Although both projects initially struggled to gain traction, Reddit began to make large gains in popularity in 2005 and 2006.
In October 2006, based largely on the success of Reddit, Not a Bug was acquired by Condé Nast Publications, the owner of Wired magazine. Swartz moved with his company to San Francisco to work on Wired. Swartz found office life uncongenial, and he ultimately left the company.
In 2008, Swartz founded Watchdog.net, “the good government site with teeth,” to aggregate and visualize data about politicians. In the same year, he wrote a widely circulated Guerilla Open Access Manifesto. On December 27, 2010, Swartz filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to learn about the treatment of Chelsea Manning, alleged source for WikiLeaks.
In 2009, wanting to learn about effective activism, Swartz helped launch the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. He wrote on his blog, “I spend my days experimenting with new ways to get progressive policies enacted and progressive politicians elected.” Swartz led the first activism event of his career with the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, delivering thousands of “Honor Kennedy” petition signatures to Massachusetts legislators asking them to fulfill former Senator Ted Kennedy’s last wish by appointing a senator to vote for health care reform.
In 2010, Swartz co-founded Demand Progress, a political advocacy group that organizes people online to “take action by contacting Congress and other leaders, funding pressure tactics, and spreading the word” about civil liberties, government reform, and other issues.
During academic year 2010–11, Swartz conducted research studies on political corruption as a Lab Fellow in Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Research Lab on Institutional Corruption.
On the evening of January 11, 2013, Swartz’s partner, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, found him dead in his Brooklyn apartment. A spokeswoman for New York’s Medical Examiner reported that he had hanged himself. No suicide note was found. Swartz’s family and his partner created a memorial website on which they issued a statement, saying: “He used his prodigious skills as a programmer and technologist not to enrich himself but to make the Internet and the world a fairer, better place.”
Days before Swartz’s funeral, Lawrence Lessig eulogized his friend and sometime-client in an essay, Prosecutor as Bully. He decried the disproportionality of Swartz’s prosecution and said, “The question this government needs to answer is why it was so necessary that Aaron Swartz be labeled a ‘felon’. For in the 18 months of negotiations, that was what he was not willing to accept.” Cory Doctorow wrote, “Aaron had an unbeatable combination of political insight, technical skill, and intelligence about people and issues. I think he could have revolutionized American (and worldwide) politics. His legacy may still yet do so.”
Swartz’s funeral services were held on January 15, 2013, at Central Avenue Synagogue in Highland Park, Illinois. Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, delivered a eulogy. The same day, The Wall Street Journal published a story based in part on an interview with Stinebrickner-Kauffman. She told the Journal that Swartz lacked the money to pay for a trial and “it was too hard for him to … make that part of his life go public” by asking for help. He was also distressed, she said, because two of his friends had just been subpoenaed and because he no longer believed that MIT would try to stop the prosecution.
Several memorials followed soon afterward. On January 19, hundreds attended a memorial at the Cooper Union, speakers at which included Stinebrickner-Kauffman, open source advocate Doc Searls, Creative Commons’ Glenn Otis Brown, journalist Quinn Norton, Roy Singham of ThoughtWorks, and David Segal of Demand Progress. On January 24, there was a memorial at the Internet Archive with speakers including Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Alex Stamos, Brewster Kahle, and Carl Malamud. On February 4, a memorial was held in the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill; speakers at this memorial included Senator Ron Wyden and Representatives Darrell Issa, Alan Grayson, and Jared Polis, and other lawmakers in attendance included Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representatives Zoe Lofgren and Jan Schakowsky. A memorial also took place on March 12 at the MIT Media Lab.
On January 13, 2013, members of Anonymous hacked two websites on the MIT domain, replacing them with tributes to Swartz that called on members of the Internet community to use his death as a rallying point for the open access movement. The banner included a list of demands for improvements in the U.S. copyright system, along with Swartz’s Guerilla Open Access Manifesto. On the night of January 18, 2013, MIT’s e-mail system was taken offline for ten hours. On January 22, e-mail sent to MIT was redirected by hackers Aush0k and TibitXimer to the Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology. All other traffic to MIT was redirected to a computer at Harvard University that was publishing a statement headed “R.I.P Aaron Swartz,” with text from a 2009 posting by Swartz, accompanied by a chiptunes version of “The Star-Spangled Banner”. MIT regained full control after about seven hours. In the early hours of January 26, 2013, the U.S. Sentencing Commission website, USSC.gov, was hacked by Anonymous. The home page was replaced with an embedded YouTube video, Anonymous Operation Last Resort. The video statement said Swartz “faced an impossible choice”. A hacker downloaded “hundreds of thousands” of scientific-journal articles from a Swiss publisher’s website and republished them on the open Web in Swartz’s honor a week before the first anniversary of his death.
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (20-Jan-2014) · Himself