We are all Aaron Swartz
“I know well that old industry and government bureaucracies who see the open Internet as a threat can act as bullies to those who take a stand for the values Aaron stood for. If nothing else, Aaron's death brings into focus how out of step those bureaucracies are with modern social realities,” said executive director of OpenMedia.ca, Steve Anderson.
“RSS is the precursor in Internet freedom and access to information. I remember when some news sites were censored in Tunisia, a lot of people get their information from RSS feeds, at least the title and summary since the link to the contents was not accessible. It was the first tool to go around censorship,” Ben Romdhane said.
Beyond the Arab World, Swartz's RSS also famously helped Chinese dissidents circumvent censors.
“Till today, many Chinese caged users behind Great Firewall enjoy using RSS readers to bypass censorship,” said another prominent developer, Cyberactivist and creator of the Creative Commons China Project, Isaac Mao, who sought Swartz's help in initializing the Commons.
“There are many tricks and tips online telling people how to access overseas information by subscribing to appropriate RSS feeds,” Mao added.
Much as in North Africa and China, Swartz's Reddit has helped the flow of information in Canada's own democracy movements.
“Reddit played a big role in our successful campaign to stop metered billing from being imposed on all Canadians. We asked the Reddit community for ideas and input, and their contribution helped us succeed in our campaign," said OpenMedia's Anderson, noting that Reddit also facilitated a Canadian-led discourse on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, what OpenMedia calls an “extreme international trade agreement” with the objective of “criminalizing everyday uses of the Internet.”
Swartz's death acts as a kind of wake up call that, despite all his contributions to shaping the Internet's potential for dissidence, his work is not yet finished, says Ben Romdhane.
“Today Swartz's act reminds us all that we are not there yet and Internet freedom is not a won battle, and that will make us all the more focused and willing to continue the fight he started.
In another throwback to the ongoing Arab Revolutions' slogan of “We are all Khaled Said,” a revolutionary battle cry started in Egypt, Swartz's colleague Palevsky said that “We are all Aaron Swartz” in the ongoing battle for Internet freedom.
“We take on the responsibility of fighting not only for open Internet, but Aaron's ideals of a just society.”
North of the border
With Canada battling it's own movement against legislative gestures to restrict Internet freedoms with measures like Bills C-11 and C-30, Swartz's message seems more pertinent than ever.
“I'm not aware of the Open Media movement in Canada, but I'm sure Aaron was,” Palevsky said, “His advice after the SOPA campaign here was to remind people of the power they have to stand up, make this their issue and prevent politicians who benefit too often from doing things behind closed doors – to prevent them from doing anything to destroy the Internet as we know it today.”
Canada's Open Media movement has heard Swartz's call.
“I think everyone should be inspired by what this one young person has been able to accomplish in his short life. Beyond that, I think the takeaway from this incident is that allowing old bureaucracies to impose punishments and restrictions on the emerging participatory economy and society creates tangible, if hidden, personal and social costs,” Anderson said.
“Whether it be government surveillance, or Internet restrictions imposed by old media or telecom bureaucracies -- the costs are real and mounting. Aaron took on a disproportionate amount of those costs, and his passing is emblematic of the fact that we can no longer sit by and allow this to continue.”