The Tale of Two Tech Wizards

Mark Zuckerberg and Aaron H Swartz are two different personalities, but with many similarities – both are young American computer programmers, are the founders of some companies, and got entangled in some legal disputes. Unfortunately, one has succumbed to pressure while crawling the ladder of success, and another is still striving to go a long way.

As the world knows, Zuckerberg launched social media giant Facebook from his dormitory room. And at the age of 23, in the year 2007, Facebook made him a billionaire. By 2010, it had an estimated 500 mn users worldwide and reached 1 bn in 2012. In between, Zuckerberg was involved in some legal disputes initiated by others who claimed a share of the company due to their help in setting it up.

Facebook also drew flak for a range of issues like child safety, hate speech, online privacy etc. Despite all these, Zuckerberg was named among the 100 wealthiest and most influential people in the world by the Time magazine. He got people’s support and handled every flak patiently.

On the other side of the spectrum, Swartz, at the age of 14, co-authored the RSS 1.0 specifications, which are now widely used for publishing frequent updates online, and went on to help launch social news website Reddit.

On January 6, 2011, Swartz was arrested by the federal authorities for allegedly downloading academic journal from JSTOR. He opposed JSTOR’s practice of compensating publishers, rather than authors, out of the fees it charges for access to articles. But unable to withstand the pressure, Swartz committed suicide in his apartment on January 11, 2013.

After his death, federal judge Nathaniel M Gorton dismissed the charges against him. A move which could have saved Swartz, if it had been taken earlier.

“Aaron Swartz faced a more severe prison term than killers, slave dealers and bank robbers,” said Ian Millhiser of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

“Whatever one thinks of Swartz’s actions, which were likely illegal and probably should be illegal, it is difficult to justify treating him as if he were a more dangerous criminal than someone who flies into a rage and kills their own brother.”

 

Swartz had pleaded not guilty to charges of computer fraud, wire fraud and other crimes carrying a maximum sentence of 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

Marcia Hofmann, of the Electronic Frontier Foundatin, said:”Aaron’s tragedy shine a spotlight on a couple of profound flaws of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act…(whose) vague language, broad rech, and harsh punishments combine to create a powerful weapon for overeager prosecutors to unleash on people they don’t like.”

While the world cherishes Zuckerberg’s another acheivment ‘graphic search’, which will allow users to search for people, photos, places and other content that has already been shared on the social network, Swartz’s death has filled us with heaviness. If the federal government had shown some sympathy to this tech wizard, who played an instrumental role in RSS, we would have not lost him and with him many innovations which got buried.

Had he been alive, Swartz would have mined some innovative ideas and would have walked in the lines of Zuckerberg to give the world its due.

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