Aaron Swartz

Friday, January 18, 2013


On January 11, 26-year-old hacker, programmer, and activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide. He had a history of depression and faced federal prosecution for downloading millions of articles from the online academic article repository JSTOR. Brooke talks to Gawker's Adrian Chen, who wrote about Swartz's legal troubles this week.


Adrian Chen

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Brooke Gladstone

Comments [9]

BxMuscle from The Bronx, New York, NY

"At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution." Karl Marx, Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, 1859.

Old story, new context. But where would we be if, say, Nelson Mandela over even MLK killed themselves over the threat of a jail sentence for breaking unjust laws? Bourgeois posers playing at revolutionary changes to society should never be taken too seriously, however intellectually brilliant in certain narrow ways they may be.

Jan. 17 2016 11:08 AM
Shadat from Calfronia

Sign this Whitehouse petition to make the DOJ accountable for Aaron Swartz death

Jan. 28 2013 10:36 AM

Hi, Sheva,

Aaron was turned down for a plea that included no jailtime. He was however offered a plea of six months behind bars. Sorry you don't like our choice of guests, but Adrian's article about Aaron was thoughtful and well sourced.

Jan. 23 2013 04:47 PM

I found it odd when listening to this story that Aaron Swartz was characterized by Adrian Chen as a Renaissance Man of the internet age. I guess in the internet age you need to only have expertise in one area to be a Renaissance Man and that area is computer programming and the internet.

Jan. 21 2013 12:35 PM
Maria Jette from Minneapolis

What a sad waste of a brilliant mind.

I'd like to chime in about JSTOR, though. I was disturbed to hear OTM imply that JSTOR is somehow too expensive for individuals, as that's just not true!

I'm not affiliated with an academic institution, but I can access JSTOR via my public library. For some reason I've never been able to discern, public libraries are terrible about making those facilities visible to the public. In the case of the Hennepin County Library system, you find "databases," and then look through the zillions of really fascinating DBs until you get to JSTOR. Plug in your (free) library card number, and you're in-- all of JSTOR, and you haven't paid a thing.

I'm quite sure that ANYONE who's willing to do a bit of poking around online can find portals which they can use for free. I hope OTM will take a look at that for a follow-up. It makes Aaron Swartz's death all the more pointless-- had he realized that JSTOR is actually quite accessible to the public, perhaps he wouldn't have felt compelled to start the chain of events which led to his being made an "example" by the feds.

Jan. 20 2013 04:57 PM


I am not sure what to make of the difference between that report your cite from Salem (Oregon) which conflicts with the Boston Globe report. The Globe cites Mr. Swartz's attorney as saying that that both he and his client rejected the offer of a plea deal from the prosecutors.


How would you have us read an unsourced claim from small newspaper across the country as compared to a sourced (and the best possible source) from the major paper in town? The strikes me as much more credible.

Jan. 20 2013 11:40 AM

I do not know of any history of or theorizing about "civil disobedience" that excludes a willingness to suffer the legal consequences of violating the law.

The difference between "civil disobedience" and "flouting the law" is just that: a willingness to suffer the legal consequences, usually to draw attention to an unjust or insensible law.

Aaron Swartz never demonstrated that he was willing to engage in civil disobedience. He showed that he was willing to flout the law. That is an important distinction. He was not like Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr, Ghandi or Thoreau.

Jan. 20 2013 11:32 AM

I'm sorry for your loss.

Jan. 20 2013 12:29 AM
Shava Nerad from Salem MA, and 30+ years on the Internet.

Adrian Chen, who tends to be a bit loose with the facts as is typical with Gawker, is mistaken about Aaron Swartz being offered a plea deal by the Massachusetts Federal Prosecutor's Office. Aaron was turned down for a plea deal two days before his death.


Perhaps On the Media should think harder about the reputation of the sources of the journalism sources they use for their reliability? Seriously. Gawker? This is roughly like going for a British shock tabloid.

I'm a friend of Aaron's -- I've known him online since he was a teen, in person from the Berkman bloggers and was on panels and activist actions with him. I coordinated a vigil for him the day of his funeral at his parent's home, but here in Boston, at the federal courthouse.

Jan. 19 2013 02:00 PM

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