Home / Media / Anonymous Hackers Down MIT Website After Aaron Swartz Suicide (Updated)

Anonymous Hackers Down MIT Website After Aaron Swartz Suicide (Updated)

Researcher Aaron Swartz committed suicide as he awaited trial on 13 felony counts for downloading and publishing nearly 4 million academic journal articles

The hacker group Anonymous took down the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's website Monday morning in retaliation for the role it felt the college played in researcher Aaron Swartz's suicide.

Wikimedia CommonsSwartz, a political activist and computer programmer, reportedly hanged himself last week in his Brooklyn apartment as he awaited trial on 13 felony counts for downloading and publishing roughly 4 million academic journal articles from the database JSTOR.

He allegedly used the university's network to download the data.

Swartz's family and partner issued a statement over the weekend, accusing the college of having a role in his death, saying "decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. attorney's office and at M.I.T. contributed to his death" and that "M.I.T. refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community's most cherished principles."

Swartz struggled with depression even before his indictment. At one point, in March 2007, he published a blog post in which he fantasized about his own suicide, according to a memorial written by his friend and BoingBoing writer, Cory Doctorow.

From 4 p.m. to 7:50 p.m. PT on Sunday evening, M.I.T.'s network lost access to most websites, including mit.edu, where Anonymous posted a red-lettered message in Swartz's honor.

“Whether or not the government contributed to his suicide, the government’s prosecution of Swartz was a grotesque miscarriage of justice, a distorted and perverse shadow of the justice that Aaron died fighting for — freeing the publicly-funded scientific literature from a publishing system that makes it inaccessible to most of those who paid for it — enabling the collective betterment of the world through the facilitation of sharing — an ideal that we should all support,” said the message.

Kimberly Allen, the media relations manager at M.I.T., did not immediately respond to a call from TheWrap requesting comment.

M.I.T. President Rafael Reif asked computer science professor Hal Abelson on Sunday to "lead a thorough analysis of M.I.T.'s involvement from" in Swartz's case.

The Department of Justice dropped charges against Swartz on Monday, standard policy for when a defendant dies, the Hill reported.

JSTOR, which said it settled its claims against Swartz in June 2011, said it was "saddened" to hear of his death.

"We extend our heartfelt condolences to Aaron’s family, friends, and everyone who loved, knew, and admired him," it said in a post on its website. "He was a truly gifted person who made important contributions to the development of the internet and the web from which we all benefit." 

Updated at 11:19 a.m. PT with news from the Department of Justice and a statement from JSTOR.