The news of Aaron Swartz’ death on January 11, 2013 of an apparent suicide spread across the tech community and beyond last week, and although not everyone was aware of who the man behind the headline was, others felt there was something a little fishy with the story. Swartz was a computer programmer and Internet activist, who also organized political movements that supported free and open access to information. It is not an impossibility that someone decided it was time that he was silenced, and used suicide as a cover-up.
Throughout history, people who have possessed a powerful voice, strong mind, radical ideas or the ability to lead the masses have been silenced. Rub the government or higher authorities the wrong way, and you can find yourself a target. Anger the wrong political group or oppose the elite, and their influence and wealth can adversely affect your life. The consequences emerge in many different ways. For Swartz, some will say that he was relentlessly pursued, harassed, slandered, and became a victim of what some would call ‘legal intimidation’ (or bullying).
There is no doubt that agencies, such as the CIA and FBI, have been a part of cover-ups and suspicious murders that have been orchestrated to appear differently. Some people tend to believe that powerful people have a hand in the deaths of various influential people that occur before their ‘time.’ Swartz definitely made enemies in high places as he worked towards lessening some of the power and control they possessed. He once wrote, “Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves.”
The ‘investigation’ that the FBI launched concerning Swartz was put in place before 2009. In October of 2009, Swartz responded by defiantly posting his own FBI file online. He was becoming an increasing threat to the people in power because he pushed for the free flow of information, wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, and the people listened.
Swartz’ Impact on the Tech World
At a very young age, Swartz exhibited an advanced mind and was part of a group that authored the RSS 1.0 web syndication specification ”“ before the RSS version we know today was released. As he got older, Swartz was an advocate for public access of information and capabilities not available to everyone. Swartz is also known for his role in Reddit ”“ a website centered on social news and entertainment that allowed registered users to submit content that was subsequently rated.
However, Swartz ruffled a lot of feathers of the higher ups because the agenda he pushed was for the people, and not in favor for the authority, control or money-making practices of businesses and the government. Along the way, he founded the online group Demand Progress, which hit news headlines with their campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act. He was known for fighting against Internet censorship. Swartz also had ties with activist groups in the United States and in other countries, such as Rootstrikers and Avaaz.
And when Swartz spoke, people opened their ears. He had quite the following, and often spread his views in the articles he wrote or television appearances he made as a commentator.
It’s quite easy to cover-up the death of someone by taking advantage of negative aspects in their lives. For Swartz, he was arrested by federal authorities on January 6, 2011 for his link to the systematic downloading of academic journal articles stored in the digital library called JSTOR. Swartz found the company at fault for paying publishers instead of authors when people paid fees to access articles. Eventually, he was threatened with 50 years in jail for downloading the archived journals without permission from JSTOR. However, the company declined to press charges against Swartz, and interestingly, just two days before his death, they announced that they would offer some of their journal archives for free to the public.
Despite this victory, some find it hard to believe that such an accomplished young mind decided to take his own life. Amidst rumors of depression, declining health, and the pressure of increased legal action, Swartz was found dead in his Crown Heights apartment in Brooklyn, N.Y ”“ death by hanging ”“ but some will say by whose hands.