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Tributes pour in for Reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz

Monday, 14 January 2013 | By Michelle Hammond

Tributes have poured in for tech entrepreneur and internet activist Aaron Swartz, who died on Friday.

 

Swartz, who co-founded social news and entertainment website Reddit, was a member of the RSS-DEV Working Group, which co-authored the “RSS 1.0” specification of RSS.

 

He joined the Reddit team in January 2006 after a merger with his own project, software company Infogami, which had received funding from Y Combinator.

 

Swartz was fired by the group after Conde Nast Publications acquired Reddit in October 2006.

 

In a 2007 interview, Swartz said he was unhappy working in an office, which led to his firing. Reddit is now one of the largest websites in the world.

 

Swartz turned his focus to sociology, civic awareness and activism. He co-founded online group Demand Progress, known for its campaign against the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA).

 

In 2011, he was charged with stealing millions of scholarly articles from a computer archive at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in a bid to make them freely available.

 

Swartz’s trial was due to begin next month. If convicted, he faced decades in prison and multiple fines. Swartz, who reportedly committed suicide, was 26 at the time of his death.

 

A statement from his family and partner praised Swartz for his “insatiable curiosity, creativity and brilliance”, describing his commitment to social justice as “profound”.

 

“He was instrumental to the defeat of an internet censorship bill; he fought for a more democratic, open, and accountable political system; and he helped to create, build, and preserve a dizzying range of scholarly projects,” the statement read.

 

Swartz’s family has blamed prosecutors for his death, describing the charge against him as “exceptionally harsh”.

 

“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach,” it said.

 

“Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts US Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death.”

 

MIT has also released a statement, conceding it “played a role” in Swartz’s legal struggles.

 

“Now is a time for everyone involved to reflect on their actions, and that includes all of us at MIT,” MIT president Rafael Reif wrote in an open letter to the academic community.

 

Reif said there would be a “thorough analysis” of MIT’s involvement in the case.

 

Swartz’s death comes just a year after another tech entrepreneur, Ilya Zhitomirskiy, committed suicide. Zhitomirskiy had been responsible for creating the open-source social project, Diaspora.