You Have Friends

This is not infopolicy related, so if you are only here for political stuff, I am sure your regularly scheduled programming will return soon. Today I learned that Aaron Swartz, American progressive political activist and EFF supporter and one of the guys who helped Lessig create Creative Commons, committed suicide yesterday, after (apparently) battling depression.

It is too common amongst our circles that this happens. Lonely and depressed people frequently find solace in technology, and furthermore other people get wrapped up into technology and forget a real world with real people who love them exist. People within our pirate circles have the additional uphill battle of knowing so many abuses that happen in the world and many times we feel powerless to change them. It can feel like nothing you do really matters.

Depression isn’t something to be ashamed of, and it’s nothing you should hide. It’s a medical condition, and it physically affects how you think. You wouldn’t hide having a broken leg, so why be ashamed of having depression? While I don’t hide it, most people don’t know that I, myself, suffer from depression (and sometimes it is very severe). I don’t work through it on my own, I have friends who I talk to. I even have an IRC channel that I frequent full of other people who are also depressed (which is a lot less depressing than it sounds).

I don’t expect you to come out and tell the world that you are depressed, depression is very personal. You need to talk to someone about it, though. Your friends are there for you, and no true friend is going to treat you different because you asked for help, it may even make them more comfortable confronting their own depression. You can talk to me, my email and phone number are public if you need someone to talk to call me 24/7. I know that my toughest time is around 3AM, when there is no one around to distract me and I feel alone. You are not alone. If it’s 3AM and you are in a dark place, or even if you just feel lonely… there is no bad reason to talk.

Help Others

@pookleblinky on Twitter has created the hashtag #youvegotfriends and is encouraging anyone who feels comfortable to use it to post their contact information so if anyone needs someone to talk to, a list of compassionate people are available to them. Please use the hashtag if you feel comfortable

I feel too often people are afraid to call crisis lines or to talk to their friends because they feel that those are there for when you are about to do something really stupid… but in reality, we are here for you all the time. You don’t need to feel bad calling a crisis line because you just feel lonely, you are not less important than anyone else. (Though, full disclosure, I have never called one so I don’t know how effective their workers are).

TL;DR – You are not alone, if you ever need anything at any time you can call me 24/7, depression isn’t anything to be ashamed of.

Also, thanks to my close friend that I talk to about depression — I have found that watching this video always makes me less focused on bad things:

Update: has gone dark in memory of Aaron has gone dark as well


  1. Pat Mächler

    Travis is correct: we need to talk more about depression. Florian Hufsky who was one of the most important pirates in the earlier history of the movement also comitted suicide in 2009.

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      This still gets to me. (Some people may recall that I dedicated the Why Are You Here keynote at the PPI meeting in Friedrichshafen to Florian.)

      But it’s particularly emotional for me to look at Florian’s Wikipedia page and his photo,

      as that photo is the only one I’ve seen published of Florian – and the photo is actually of Florian and me:

      I still can’t understand that Aaron is gone. 🙁


  2. Aelius Blythe

    This was really horrible news to wake up to.

    It’s hard to think that someone who offered so much to make the world better was in such a bad place himself. Aaron Swartz’s JSTOR escapades were a particularly inspiring, morale boosting battle. I guess when you don’t know a person and only see their awesome contributions, it’s easy to think that everything must be awesome for them too. It really makes you think about what’s going on with the PEOPLE behind the contributions to the digital world that we see and benefit from every day. Easy to forget about the person, easy to forget there’s a real, flesh and blood human being behind the work. Not so easy today.

  3. Pat Mächler

    and here’s another really deep obituary by Cory

  4. Samir Allioui
  5. Ian Farquhar

    We know, sadly, that Aaron was battling depression. The cause of this depression was clear: the absurd trial which could have seen him spending decades in jail for downloading documents from JSTOR.

    So let’s unpack that: what Aaron did was take a principled position against the journal publishing industry, who have been abusing copyright to make significant profits from academic research. Much of this research is publicly funded, but to get published, the authors were forced to sign over their copyrights and give the publishers monopoly distribution rights to their papers. This is why companies like Springer-Verlag exist.

    Since the appearance of the Internet, these publishers have been increasingly squeezed by alternative distribution channels, and have responded by aggressively utilizing their pre-existing copyrights to lock up material behind onerous pay walls ($10-$20 PER ARTICLE). Sound familiar? Even authors who tried to make their own (in the moral sense of “their own”) papers available freely have been told to remove them from distribution.

    His actions were unwise, but 50 years in prison for downloading a bunch of CULTURE which should have been free is absurd beyond belief. This is the same sort of ridiculous over-reaction from the authorities which saw 12 year olds in 1800 executed or deported for life for picking up a handkerchief from the street, and being charged with theft. I am sure it will take a lot less than two centuries to look equally absurd, too.

    Aaron should have faced a misdemeanor charge, if even that. I reality, I see no part of this which in a rational system should have been a criminal matter. This should be purely civil, but US industry has been socializing it’s costs (like enforcement) for decades. Such good little socialists, are US corporates. 🙂

    In reality, Aaron took on a industry which has been abusing copyrights for decades, and the US government and it’s largely corrupt-by-design judiciary was their typically willing and massively over-reactive in their behalf.

    So with the greatest respect, this IS infopolicy.

    My deepest sympathies go to Aaron, his family and friends. He lived an amazing life, and it is such a pity that it was cut short.

  6. anonymous

    thank you

  7. Shona Duncan

    I don’t see Aaron’s death in the same way with the writer. Bullying is homicide by proxy and let’s agree that by threatening Aaron with 35 years prison when it would take at least $1.5 million for his legal fee’s. No future and just a huge debt to pay back to his parents. He made an informed decision, but it wasn’t his decision, the original author of that decision was the psy-op team at ‘damage control’, trying to round up and punitively treat socio-political activists like us. He didn’t even do anything wrong, he just dowloaded too much stuff but all of the stuff was accessible to anyone anyway, there was an agenda and Aaron was lied to when he was charged. Or was he charged? Anyone?

    1. Aelius Blythe

      You’re not wrong about the bullying. But I think it is to our detriment – as a community struggling to understand and prevent these tragedies – to ignore one cause or trigger in light of another. To highlight environmental troubles (i.e. bullying) alone diminishes the reality of the inner suffering (i.e. depression) of the individual, (which can’t really be doubted in in this case )

      Of course, no matter what the ultimate cause of Aaron’s decision, his persecutors are certainly responsible for theirs – to bully and chase him with wildly disproportionate threats. While depression may be responsible for his state of mind, the “justice” system is certainly responsible for creating an extremely hostile environment for him, and those involved should be ashamed for making the life of a brilliant young person so unbearable.

      Still, as a community, we should forget neither the hostile environment nor the mental state of the person forced to live in it, lest we dismiss the victims suffering from either.

  8. Francisco George (@paco229)

    We should all rewatch this it is Aaron’s keynote – “How we stopped SOPA” at F2C2012. A bubbly, funny and proud Aaron explained how HE and WE stopped SOPA.

    There is always a drop, in Aaron’s case a tide, that will overfill the glass of despair. This tide was created by DOJ. A Forensic specialist in IT, hired by it’s lawyers, explains in details why the DOJ didn’t have a case against him for the JSTOR incident

    Surely January 11th should be Aaron’s day in Pirates calendars and for all Liberty fighters to remembered every year.

    This is Senator (D) Ron Wyden’s tweet in memoriam:

    “Deeply saddened by the loss of Aaron Swartz. I was privileged to work w/him on PIPA/SOPA. His advocacy for the greater good will be missed.”

  9. Aaron Swartz « Tim Dobson

    […] Usual programming will resume shortly.. but remember you have friends. […]

  10. How to remain calm | TGIB

    […] hate, combined with the sad and untimely death of Aaron Swartz, which prompted some blogposts on depression, as well as bullying. Add to that the sad fate of Bradley Manning, which I read up on, and […]

  11. Lord Metroid

    The sooner a person realizes that a human is not capable of great deeds the better. Without friends we can only do so much. It is not any fault of our own. Instead one better rejoice and be satisfied with ones own little contribution.

    If you doubt the capabilities of a human just take a deeper look at how the world of business works. Great ventures containing thousands of people gathered can yet only do so little. It takes a whole company of people to even performs the simplest of tasks.

  12. Someone

    I realize that this may sound insensitive and downright horrible, but I think Aaron Swartz made the right choice, not only because of the legal (and evil) threats. There is no hope left. We will sink into totalitarian fascism with total surveillance and no freedom of expression, and most people won’t even care as long as they have their damn smartphones, facebook and wordfeud.

    You can easily realize how the future will look if you research a few things, such as but not limited to TrapWire, INDECT, the “net hate” debate in Sweden, CleanIT, CISPA, e-call, and last but not least, the cashless society.

    Most people don’t even know about the democracy-destroying properties of these things, most people doesent even know half of it exists, since news media is passively suppressing the information and too few people care enough to research it themselves.

    The Pirate Party, at least in Sweden has gone way down in the polls. The rest of the parties are acting as one in privacy- and freedom of speech-questions. And not in the good direction.

    Almost every company that can track you, also do. And the way most Swedish comment fields work, is that if you say something that doesent fullfill certain extensive unwritten requirements, your comment is removed ASAP. These requirements vary from site to site, but are mostly the same. No speaking bad of immigration, no speaking good of privacy, no speaking good of freedom of speech, no speaking bad of the article that the comment field is for. This site is one of the few exceptions, where one can write most things and not get the comment removed.

    Most newspapers now have removed their comment fields, or require facebook login and publicly showing the name.

    The police can with almost no suspicion of crime check the positions of cellphones the last half year.

    If you want to ride the bus, in order to pay you have to register on the bus company’s homepage, with your name and SSN, and agree to that they collect travel data about you and sell it to third party.

    And those things are today, and most of them were not true five years ago.

    In five years, I expect anonymising services and Tor to be forbidden, encryption to be forbidden or like England, prison sentences for not giving the key to encrypted media or files. I expect every car must have a GPS tracker to be legal to drive on public roads, all cash buys must be registered with ID, interconnected face recognition CCTV in almost every store and on the streets, and no writing can in any way be made public without the author identifying himself to a searchable police registry and maybe also to the public.

    Also, I expect harsher laws against “terrorism” such as protesting against surveillance or censorship, or spreading the information that the terrorism threat is not as big as the media says, and so on.

    I have researched much, and I can only say that we passed the “1984” mark somewhere around 2008-2010. And just as the people in George Orwell’s book, most people doesent even realise that something is wrong, the doublethink prevents them from doing that.

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  14. […] (See also Travis McCrea’s article You have friends.) […]

  15. […] who read my last post knows that the death of Aaron was hard on me, as it was to many in the Pirate community. Today the […]

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