Aaron H. Swartz, co-founder at the age of 14 of Reddit, hung himself last Friday. While he had a history of depression the fact that the Justice Department was charging him with crimes was likely a factor in his suicide. On his show, “Up with Chris Hayes,” host Chris Hayes had this to say about the man he once knew:
You should also know that at the time of his death Aaron was being prosecuted by the federal government and threatened with up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines for the crime of — and I’m not exaggerating here — downloading too many free articles from the online database of scholarly work JSTOR. Aaron had allegedly used a simple computer script to use MIT’s network to massively download academic articles from the database that he himself had legitimate access to, almost 5 million in all, with the intent, prosecutors alleged, of making them freely available. You should know that despite JSTOR declining to press charges or pursue prosecution, federal prosecutors dropped a staggering 13 count felony indictment on Aaron for his alleged actions.
In a post he titled “Sick” Aaron wrote about his depression in an attempt to help others understand what it’s like.
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. 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. Go outside and get some fresh air or cuddle with a loved one and you don’t feel any better, only more upset at being unable to feel the joy that everyone else seems to feel. Everything gets colored by the sadness.
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. As George Scialabba put it, “acute depression does not feel like falling ill, it feels like being tortured … the pain is not localized; it runs along every nerve, an unconsuming fire. … Even though one knows better, one cannot believe that it will ever end, or that anyone else has ever felt anything like it.”
According to the Huffington Post, by the Sunday after news of Aaron’s death got out, “hundreds of academics had begun tweeting links to their copyright-protected research as a protest in Swartz’s honor, using the hashtag #pdftribute.” The New York Times wrote of him as “A Data Crusader, a Defendant and Now, a Cause.” The world is not as bright a place as it was before Aaron took his own life. He will be missed by many, even those who never knew him.
If you have depression, Aaron would want you to know that help is available. You don’t have to go through it alone.
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