WASHINGTON DC – Aaron Swartz, an Internet genius who helped deliver new Web content to users by co-developing Reddit and RSS before later becoming a digital activist, has committed suicide. He was 26.
Ellen Borakove, spokeswoman for New York’s chief medical examiner, said Swartz hung himself and was pronounced dead late Friday in the city’s Brooklyn borough.
At the time of his death, Swartz, who had gone on to press for free public access to Web content, was just weeks away from being put on trial on accusations of stealing millions of scientific and literary journal articles from the subscription-only JSTOR service.
He faced decades in prison and $1 million in fines if convicted.
Following the activist’s 2011 arrest, anti-censorship group Demand Progress said the prosecution “makes no sense.”
“It’s like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library,” the group’s executive director David Segar said in a statement then.
Swartz also had publicly discussed on his blog his battle with depression.
Fellow technology activist Cory Doctorow met Swartz at 14 or 15 after he had already helped develop the RSS tool for users to get updates from blogs, news headlines and other online content. He later co-founded the social news website Reddit.
“In so many ways, he was an adult, even then, with a kind of intense, fast intellect that really made me feel like he was part and parcel of the Internet society,” Doctorow wrote on the Boing Boing blog.
“But Aaron was also a person who’d had problems with depression for many years… Whatever problems Aaron was facing, killing himself didn’t solve them. Whatever problems Aaron was facing, they will go unsolved forever.”
In an angry online post, Harvard Law School’s Safra Center for Ethics director Lawrence Lessig denounced federal prosecutors’ “bullying.”
“The question this government needs to answer is why it was so necessary that Aaron Swartz be labeled a ‘felon,'” Lessig wrote.
In an earlier post, the scholar wrote: “there is no way to express the sadness of this day.”
“To the co-creator of RSS, of the Creative Commons architecture, of part of Reddit and of endless love and inspiration and friendships, rest. We are all incredibly sorry to have let you down,” he added.