Remembering Aaron Swartz, Forgotten Reddit Founder and Freedom Activist
Reddit today is an Absolute Shit-Hole, filled with Unscrupulous Mods, Corporate and Statist Shills, and Pseudo-intellectual Trolls.
No, that’s not a biased opinion or exaggeration. Anyone who has spent time on reddit recently knows that is simply a fact. Sad, considering that the reddit of old was much different. Of course there were still trolls, but we can remember a time when reddit was a very open platform that was staunchly opposed to censorship. The company was once hesitant to even consider banning sub-reddits. Now, it’s one of their favorite daily chores. The front page used to be dominated by users that took a strong stance against bills like SOPA and PIPA. These were 2 bills that were considered to be harmful to internet freedom. These days, all legislators would have to do is merge the 2 bills, re-brand it the “KEEPING INTERNET FREE OF NAZIS ACT” and the front page would go nuts for it. Reddit founder Aaron Swartz must be rolling over in his grave.
Who was Aaron Swartz?
“Aaron Swartz, American computer programmer and Internet activist (born Nov. 8, 1986, Chicago, Ill.—died Jan. 11, 2013, New York, N.Y.), was regarded by many as a programming wizard who led a crusade to make information on the Internet freely available to all. At the age of 14, Swartz helped develop the RSS format, an automated system for delivering information from frequently updated sources. He contributed to the Creative Commons copyright system and to the Semantic Web. He later founded a company, Infogami, that in 2005 merged with and formed the basic architecture for the social-sharing site Reddit. In 2008 Swartz wrote a program to download federal judicial documents from the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) database in order to make them freely available and circumvent the fee that PACER required. In 2011 he undertook to make the academic journals accessible for a fee from JSTOR freely available; at the time of his death, by suicide, Swartz was under federal indictment for illegally accessing and distributing that material.”
Reddit has taken some heat for not including late Aaron Swartz as a founder.
A graphic available on the website instead declares that Reddit was founded in 2005 by Steve Huffman (who continues to serve as CEO) and Alexis Ohanian.
This revelation caused an avalanche of negative comments on the subreddit, r/WatchRedditDie, that says its purpose is to track reddit’s abandonment of free speech and decline into censorship.”
Was Aaron Swartz Murdered?
“Chronicle Reporters also questioned Julian Assange, sick from months of exile in the Ecuadorean embassy, about the death of Aaron Swartz. “I am not convinced that Aaron Swartz was such a coward he committed suicide due to fear of prison,” said Mr. Assange. “Read his words, and decide for yourself, but I believe Swartz was murdered by a team of copyright assassins who made it all look like a simple suicide. Watch what you say, or you may end up like Aaron Swartz.”
Swartz gave a talk in 2008, mentioning his intention to ” download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks.”
Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the sciences? You’ll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier.
There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it. But even under the best scenarios, their work will only apply to things published in the future. Everything up until now will have been lost.
That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable.
“I agree,” many say, “but what can we do? The companies hold the copyrights, they make enormous amounts of money by charging for access, and it’s perfectly legal — there’s nothing we can do to stop them.” But there is something we can, something that’s already being done: we can fight back.
Those with access to these resources — students, librarians, scientists — you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not — indeed, morally, you cannot — keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords with colleagues, filling download requests for friends.
Meanwhile, those who have been locked out are not standing idly by. You have been sneaking through holes and climbing over fences, liberating the information locked up by the publishers and sharing them with your friends.
But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. It’s called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn’t immoral — it’s a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy.
Large corporations, of course, are blinded by greed. The laws under which they operate require it — their shareholders would revolt at anything less. And the politicians they have bought off back them, passing laws giving them the exclusive power to decide who can make copies.
There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture.
We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.
With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?
July 2008, Eremo, Italy
RIP Aaron. If they have the internet in the Afterlife, stay the fuck off Reddit. You’ll be very disappointed.