Why Haven't We Heard of Aaron Swartz?

01/12/2013

For those of you who don't know, Aaron Swartz, the co-founder of reddit and an information-freedom activist, committed suicide today.

I'm not going to bother telling you about who he was, the great things he did, how influential he was, or the circumstances that many believe led to his suicide. A quick Google search can answer all of those questions for you.

What stands out to me is that is that today, if you type "aar" into Google's search bar, the second suggested search is, as you probably guessed, "Aaron Swartz". That probably wasn't true yesterday.

I've heard the name Aaron Swartz a couple times before, but I didn't know that he was facing legal charges that could end up jailing him for a seemingly nonsensical 50 years.

Yesterday, no one bothered to write about the trial. Today, there are countless articles about how our justice system is broken and corrupt in how it dealt with Aaron Swartz. Yesterday, most people probably hadn't heard of Aaron Swartz. Today, he's a martyr.

Tragedy seems to incite us into a frenzy of writing and typing. It's undeniably tragic that Aaron Swartz killed himself; if the things that he believed in and was fighting for were truly so important to the world, shouldn't we have heard about him before? If nothing else, shouldn't have someone have tried to inform the general public of how egregious the sentence would have been for the corresponding charges?

Whether or not it contributed to his suicide, the federal government's prosecution of Swartz was a grotesque miscarriage of justice…We should pay tribute to Aaron's memory by reforming the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to prevent such disproportionate prosecutions from happening in the future.

Timothy B. Lee, ars technica

Did a man need to kill himself to incite action to reform a broken set of laws? Why wasn't ars technica -- or anyone else -- writing about Aaron Swartz before today? Why didn't anyone bother getting the message out before he killed himself?

We should undoubtedly remember Aaron Swartz (and perhaps advocate change to honor his memory).

We should also remember that Aaron Swartz is now only a memory. Had all these articles spread the word about Aaron Swartz before he saw fit to commit suicide, perhaps he wouldn't be just a memory.