Twenty-six-year-old computer activist, co-owner of reddit and co-author of the widely-used RSS 1.0 specification, Aaron H. Swartz, committed suicide in New York City on Friday. The method of suicide has been released in the media (Update).
This is according to a comment by Michael Wolf, Swartz's uncle, to The Tech.
Confirmation was received from Swartz's attorney, Elliot R. Peters by email: “The tragic and heartbreaking information you received is, regrettably, true.”
At the age of 14, Swartz co-authored the now widely-used RSS 1.0 specification.
26-year-old Swartz is famous for allegedly downloading documents from the JSTOR online journal archive with the intent to distribute them and was indicted in July 2011. Swartz reportedly pleaded not guilty to this and was released on US$100,000 unsecured bail. If charged he would have faced a potential prison term of 35 years and a fine up to US$1 million.
After this, he moved to Brooklyn, New York, where he obtained employment with the Avaaz Foundation, which is a non-profit “global web movement to bring people-powered politics to decision-making everywhere.”
Swartz was one of three co-owners of the popular social news site reddit, and also completed a fellowship at Harvard’s Ethics Center Lab on Institutional Corruption.
In 2010, Swartz founded DemandProgress.org, which "works to win progressive policy changes for ordinary people through organizing, and grassroots lobbying. In particular, we tend to focus on issues of civil liberties, civil rights, and government reform."
The group was active recently with a campaign against the Internet censorship bills SOPA/PIPA, and now has over a million members.
Swartz also developed the website theinfo.org which provides free access to public records.
He has also been widely cited for his landmark analysis of Wikipedia, Who Writes Wikipedia?
Swartz further worked with web inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, at MIT, where he helped develop and popularize standards for sharing data on the Web.
Update 1:CNET reports that a friend of Swartz, Cory Doctorow, said today that Swartz had battled depression for several years.
"To the world: we have all lost someone today who had more work to do, and who made the world a better place when he did it," Doctorow wrote.
Further news on the suicide is that police found Swartz's body in his apartment in Brooklyn on Friday, and that the city's chief medical examiner has ruled the death as a suicide by hanging.
Swartz wrote in an online "manifesto" dated 2008.
"The world's entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. ... sharing isn't immoral - it's a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy."