The world of social media and beyond is today reeling from the shock announcement that the 26-year-old co-founder of Reddit, Aaron Swartz, is dead.
There can be few social media managers, community managers and content managers who could have been left unimpressed by Swartz’ achievements and ethical commitments. The success of Reddit was an inspiration to Mark Zuckerberg, but Swartz was also a devoted crusader for freedom of information online. He appears to have committed suicide on Friday in New York City.
A stressful trial
The troubled young genius may have succumbed to pressure weighing down on him as he faced trial, accused of hacking into the online research group JSTOR and downloading millions of documents. Swartz pleaded not guilty last year but, if convicted, would probably have faced a lengthy jail sentence.
It was his lawyer, Elliott R. Peters, who confirmed news of his death in an email to the MIT’s newspaper, The Tech, by saying, “The tragic and heartbreaking information you received is, regrettably, true.”
Swartz pursued his fight against internet censorship with enormous devotion and those who supported his aims were hugely supportive of his cause as the trial loomed. An organisation he had helped set up, Demand Progress, likened his predicament to “trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library.” Its program director, David Moon, said that he was “shocked and saddened” to hear of Swartz’s untimely death.
A close friend, web expert Cory Doctorow, posted on his blog that Swartz may well have been fearful of a long prison sentence but added that he also suffered bouts of depression. He wrote: “We have all lost someone today who had more work to do, and who made the world a better place when he did it.”
Another deep friend, Quinn Norton, who he’d helped through a painful divorce some years ago, wrote:
“I can only say I love him. That I will always love him, and that I known for years I would. Aaron was a boy, not big, who cast a shadow across the world. But for me, he will always be that person who made me love him.”
Numerous online tributes are still pouring in from those who personally knew or were inspired by the brilliant but tortured young tech wizard.