Mass Twitter protest honors dead Internet activist

Thousands took to Twitter Sunday to post academic articles, snubbing copyright laws and paying tribute to Aaron Swartz, an anti-Internet censorship activist who died of an apparent suicide Friday.

An Internet prodigy who championed anti-censorship activism during his life continues to inspire after his untimely suicide.

Aaron Swartz, 26, was found dead after apparently hanging himself in his Brooklyn apartment Friday. He helped create an early version of RSS, was one of the creators of Reddit and was instrumental in the defeat of the Stop Online Piracy Act last year.

Aaron Swartz, 26, Internet activist, programmer is dead

Sunday, thousands of Twitter users took to the Web to honor Swartz’s contribution to Internet freedom. Disregarding copyrights, users posted links to academic papers under the hashtag #PDFTribute.

Dr. Micah Allen, of Denmark's Aarhus University Department of Health Sciences, sparked the protest Saturday with a post on Reddit: "A fitting tribute to Aaron might be a mass protest uploading of copyright-protected research articles."

On his blog, Allen said he was shocked by the response he got. "It was amazing to wake up this morning and see that redditors had responded strongly to the idea," he wrote.

The tribute gained steam Sunday, prompting thousands of posts. Many did link to articles; some merely conveyed their condolences or thanks.

"I promise to share future papers if and when I publish, in honor of Aaron Swartz & open access to knowledge. What a tragedy #PDFTribute," Twitter user @thienvinh wrote.

The campaign even crossed international borders, prompting tweets in Spanish.

At the time of his death, Swartz was facing a potential sentence of 35 years in jail and $1 million in fines for computer fraud and other charges, according to Mashable. Swartz had allegedly downloaded academic journal articles at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Gizmodo reported today that MIT plans to investigate its involvement in the charges, which was criticized by Swartz's friends and family after his death. MIT President L. Rafael Reif said in a statement that the investigation will "describe the options MIT had and the decisions MIT made, in order to understand and to learn from the actions MIT took."

Swartz's family said in a statement that "decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney's office and at MIT contributed to his death."

Swartz's trial was set to begin in April.


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