Glenn Greenwald has written an extremely fitting tribute to tech freedom fighter Aaron Swartz, who tragically killed himself aged 26 after being hounded by the US government for his role in targeting JSTOR, the online publishing company that distributes and profits from scholarly articles written by academics. Swartz had dedicated his life to using the internet for the public good, turning his back on a promising career in the tech world that would have made him a multi millionaire many times over. He fought against corporations making a profit off of the hard work of others, and sought to democratize access to public information. Writes Greenwald:
At the age of 14, Swartz played a key role in developing the RSS software that is still widely used to enable people to manage what they read on the internet. As a teenager, he also played a vital role in the creation of Reddit, the wildly popular social networking news site. When Conde Nast purchased Reddit, Swartz received a substantial sum of money at a very young age. He became something of a legend in the internet and programming world before he was 18. His path to internet mogul status and the great riches it entails was clear, easy and virtually guaranteed: a path which so many other young internet entrepreneurs have found irresistible, monomaniacally devoting themselves to making more and more money long after they have more than they could ever hope to spend.
But rather obviously, Swartz had little interest in devoting his life to his own material enrichment, despite how easy it would have been for him.
Technically, Swartz may have broken the law, but as Greenwald points out, “JSTOR told federal prosecutors that it had no intent to see him prosecuted.” Instead, he was hounded and put on trial facing millions of dollars in fines and the prospect of decades in jail. This was too much for the already depression prone Swartz who took his life as a result of the treatment by a system that refuses to prosecute real criminals and persecutes the weak. Writes Greenwald:
Swartz was destroyed by a “justice” system that fully protects the most egregious criminals as long as they are members of or useful to the nation’s most powerful factions, but punishes with incomparable mercilessness and harshness those who lack power and, most of all, those who challenge power.
The internet opens up many opportunities to do public good, and those fighting on the front line are paving the way for a brighter, more democratic future. Sadly, we’ve lost one a pioneer in the online fight against corporatism and private greed.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.