Aaron Swartz–The Death of a Genius and Birth of a Martyr
Aaron Swartz, a brilliant internet activist and freedom fighter who developed the tools that allow the internet to function as it does today, took his own life a few days ago at the promising young age of 26. Ever since his passing, the internet has been teeming with grief for the loss of such a brilliant and passionate young mind– so much so that he will be remembered as a martyr in the internet’s crusade for freedom.
Aaron Swartz was a prime example of the modern-day American renaissance man; an exceptionally skilled computer programmer, writer, archivist, political organizer, and internet activist. He was the embodiment of the internet itself, a man who worked tirelessly to cultivate a world where information was free and open for anyone who wished to access it. He was a genius who had helped to build the internet, not in terms of its foundations like ARPAnet or packet switching, but through his contributions to the coding of RSS 1.0 and the framework that helps to make web applications possible. He had even co-founded the popular internet news website Reddit.com. In short, he made the internet as expansive as it is today.
However, it was his activities as “Hacktivist” that made him an icon to those who shared his philosophy. It is also why his suicide made those like myself mourn the loss of a stranger; anyone who cherishes the freedom of the internet and its endless supply of information owes Aaron their gratitude and so much more.
Aaron was a crusader who held a certain logic about the world that was not reciprocated. Aaron’s beliefs were common among the hacker subculture: the liberation of knowledge, open access to information, code as free speech, and the use of code to make the world a better place to expand and grow– a logic that is obviously not shared by the government and big corporations. As a result, Aaron went through many years where he struggled with clinical depression.
The fact that Aaron was so beloved among the internet community and those who shared his beliefs was an added incentive for the authorities. When Aaron broke into MIT and JSTOR’s websites to liberate articles and information to share for free on the internet, they saw him as a person who they could prosecute to the fullest extent of the law to send a message to anyone who sought to emulate his efforts. Aaron was facing up to 35 years in prison and a one million dollar fine. When he took his own life, it was his last affront to the authorities; instead of making an example of him, they made him a martyr.
Articles are being posted about his death every couple of hours. People have expressed outrage over the death of a young genius who had already made a significant contribution to the world, insisting that he was driven to depression, and ultimately death, by the powers that be. Pictures of Aaron that are edited with lines of his inspiring quotes are continuously popping up on forums and websites all over the internet. Aaron has become an internet icon who has brought the war on the internet’s freedom to national attention once more. In his passing, hackers have already begun to lash out in both tribute and anger. The hacker group Anonymous has already brought down MIT’s website in response to Aaron’s death.
“We want to send a message that chaos on the internet is unacceptable,” the deputy head of the FBI’s cyber division said last year, “The Internet has become so important to so many people that we have to ensure that the World Wide Web does not become the Wild Wild West” (http://www.npr.org/2011/07/20/138555799/fbi-arrests-alleged-anonymous-hackers).
It seems they’ve made a mistake in their judgment.
Aaron will forever be remembered as a person who sought to make the world a better place, a genius who stood for what he believed in as he helped to make the internet what it is today, and a martyr to those who share his philosophy. But, above all else, he was an incredibly benevolent person who could have done so many great things and a young man who died before his time.