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KYM Workshop: Aaron Swartz

Last posted Jan 15, 2013 at 01:51AM EST. Added Jan 14, 2013 at 01:11PM EST
18 posts from 7 users

Alright, here’s the game plan: there’s already mention of Aaron Swartz’ recent death in the Reddit entry but let’s try to put together a full Person entry for him today. To add a little challenge, let’s see if we can do it in three hours.

Main focus:

  • Online History
  • Legal Issues

Post your research here and I’ll add you as an editor to the entry: KYMdb – Aaron Swartz!

Last edited Jan 14, 2013 at 01:27PM EST

On January 11th, internet activist, political organizer and computer programmer Aaron Swartz killed himself.

He helped write RSS 1.0 at 14 years old. He later helped build Infogami, a platform that hosts Open Library sites, which merged with Reddit in November 2005. After they were bought by Conde Nast, he worked for Wired for a short time. In 9/2007, he launched the web site creation platform Jottit and went on to join Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics through 2010 and 2011. Also in 2010, he launched Demand Progress, an internet activist group that specializes in petitions against anti-internet movements ie: SOPA/PIPA

In July 2011, Swartz was charged with wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, and recklessly damaging a protected computer over MIT’s computer network for allegedly downloading 4 million academic articles from JSTOR. He faced a prison term of up to 35 years and a fine of up to $1 million if he were to be found guilty. JSTOR stated they would not pursue litigation, but MIT initiallly did not comment. On January 14th, MIT began looking into their role in the prosecution link

I’m sorry to say that I’m not much of a researcher or editor, but I will pay my respects.

I just can’t believe he was only 26.
He was so young.

I copied the external links from the Reddit page to the person entry – this includes the initial death announcement, the petition, and JSTOR’s statement. I have to go work on other stuff right now, but I will come back and do more research ASAP.

Swartz was also closely involved with Wikipedia as a voluntary editor and ran for the Wikimedia Foundation’s Board of Directors in 2006. That same year, he wrote Who Writes Wikipedia, an analysis of Wikipedia’s community research process and the distribution of contributions across the editors’ community. In the report, Swartz concluded that the majority of content comes from tens of thousands of casual “outsider” contributors, while a core group of 500 to 1000 regular editors tend to focus on formatting aspects. His analysis contradicted Jimmy Wales’ theory that the core group of editors are the primary research contributors, which resulted from counting the total number of characters added by an editor, as opposed to the total number of edits that were taken into consideration by Wales.

Last edited Jan 14, 2013 at 02:23PM EST

In 2008, Aaron Swartz was the target of a previous investigations after he freely published several million court and legal documents from the pay-per-page PACER system. The FBI ran a full check on his background, and led a stake out around his home.

The issue involved using a limited-time trial access to court documents for public libraries to enable a script for gathering as much information as possible. Soon after, nearly twenty million pages were uploaded to Amazon’s cloud computing service. All pages were donated to

Swartz only became aware of the issue after filing for review under the Freedom of Information Act, which revealed the full investigation to him. The investigation closed in April 2009.


Sorry. I’m a science writer, not a journalistic one. Hopefully this can be of some help, though.

You may mention that the investigation closed after the FBI tried to get him to assist them in closing the security holes in the PACER system. He turned them down after getting consultation, and they closed the investigation.

His personal life is so embedded in his work that it’s hard to discern between the two. I’ll see if I can find anything.

Swartz stayed in public schooling up until his freshman year of highschool, when he started homeschooling and a mixed set of college courses. After a few years of community college courses, he went on to study at Stanford University in California. He left after only a year, dissatisfied with the atmosphere the school provided.

Shortly after, he moved to Cambridge and began to work on the predecessor of Reddit. Interests spanning over politics, media, public opinion, and more led him to become involved in responding and writing a large number of online opinion blogs. Those same interests further pushed him to study at the Harvard Ethics Center as a Harvard Fellow.


Last edited Jan 14, 2013 at 05:14PM EST

Platus wrote:

Just a heads-up: the petition to remove the DA just passed 25k signatures, which means that the White House has to respond.

I updated the article to include that, mentioned the background of United States v. Swartz, Ortiz’s involvement, and included the supersession of the case to raise the count of four charges of felonious misconduct to thirteen.


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