Internet activist Swartz dead at 26

NEW YORK - Authorities say a co-founder of the social news website Reddit and activist who fought to make online content free to the public has been found dead.

A spokeswoman for New York’s medical examiner says 26-year-old Aaron Swartz hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment and was found Friday.

Swartz was a prodigy who as a young teenager helped create RSS. He co-founded Reddit and directed the political action group Demand Progress that campaigns against internet censorship.

In 2011, he was arrested in Boston and charged with stealing millions of scientific journals from a computer archive at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Swartz pleaded not guilty. His federal trial on computer fraud charges was to begin next month. If convicted, he could have faced decades in prison and a fortune in fines.

Aaron Swarz, found in New York after an apparent suicide at age 26.

Swarz was a prodigy, and just 14 when he wrote the specs for the RSS web page system. He was admitted to Stanford University when he was 15, but dropped out after a year because, as he wrote in a blog post, "I didn't find it a very intellectual atmosphere, since most of the other kids seemed profoundly unconcerned with their studies."

What he did next was help develop Reddit, the social news website that was eventually bought by heavyweight publisher Conde Nast in 2006.

Swartz then engaged in Internet digital activism, co-founding Demand Progress, a political action group that campaigns against Internet censorship.

But he pushed the legal limits, allegedly putting him on the wrong side of the law.

In 2011, he was arrested in Boston for alleged computer fraud and illegally obtaining documents from protected computers. He was later indicted from an incident in which he allegedly stole millions of online documents from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He pleaded not guilty in September, according to MIT's "The Tech" newspaper.

Two years earlier, the FBI investigated him after he released millions of US federal court documents online. The alleged hacking was significant because the documents came from the government-run Public Access to Court Electronic Records, or PACER, which typically charges a fee, which was 8 cents (2.5 baht) a page in 2009.

No charges were filed in that case, but on October 5, 2009, he posted online his FBI file that he apparently requested from the agency. He redacted the FBI agents' names and his personal information, he said.

In that file, the FBI said more than 18 million pages with a value of about $1.5 million were downloaded from PACER in September 2008 to Swartz's home in Highland Park, Illinois.

"As I hoped, it's truly delightful," he wrote of his FBI file.

Swartz, who completed a fellowship at Harvard's Ethics Center Lab on Institutional Corruption, frequently blogged about his life, success and personal struggles. In some instances, he wrote about death.

"There is a moment, immediately before life becomes no longer worth living, when the world appears to slow down and all its myriad details suddenly become brightly, achingly apparent," he wrote in a 2007 post titled "A Moment Before Dying."

On Nov 27 of the same year, he blogged about "depressed mood."

"Surely there have been times when you've been sad. Perhaps a loved one has abandoned you or a plan has gone horribly awry. Your face falls. Perhaps you cry. You feel worthless. You wonder whether it's worth going on," he wrote.

"Everything you think about seems bleak - the things you've done, the things you hope to do, the people around you. You want to lie in bed and keep the lights off. Depressed mood is like that, only it doesn't come for any reason and it doesn't go for any either.

"At best, you tell yourself that your thinking is irrational, that it is simply a mood disorder, that you should get on with your life. But sometimes that is worse. You feel as if streaks of pain are running through your head, you thrash your body, you search for some escape but find none. And this is one of the more moderate forms," he wrote.

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Writer: Agencies