Aaron Swartz, the Internet’s Own Boy, was a tech prodigy and hacktivist who tragically passed away at the age of 26. The documentary of the same name gives an intimate look into his rise and fall, as well as his fight for freedom of information.
The film begins with interviews from Swartz’s friends and loved ones that show him to be a passionate advocate for public access to academic and scientific research funded by taxpayers. At only 14 years old, he had already developed RSS technology. He went on to found Reddit, one of the largest news aggregators online today. He refused a lucrative job offer at Conde Nast in order to focus on creating a more democratic Internet by allowing free access to information instead of profiting off it.
This led him to use MIT computers to gain access to tax-funded research through a digital repository that would otherwise be held privately by for-profit publishers. Even though neither MIT nor the repository pressed charges against Swartz for his actions, a US Attorney stepped in and issued a 13-count felony charge against him with hefty fines and up to 35 years in jail time. This caused Swartz to be presented as a criminal instead of an activist which led him into depression over two long years of legal battles.
The documentary accurately portrays Swartz as an admirable man who was embracive by tech leaders Cory Doctorow and Lawrence Lessig, spoke frequently at conferences, participated in top level universities’ academic pursuits, and was heavily influenced by World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee’s idea of freely shared knowledge instead of privatized information available only for profit.
In light of this tragedy, it is essential that we question the impact technology has on our society’s access to information as well as our ability to challenge entities such as corporations or governments regarding our rights for free access. The Internet’s Own Boy serves not only as an homage but also an important reminder about what can happen when we take a stand for civil liberties – even if it comes at great personal cost. Therefore we urge viewers to watch this poignant documentary that will both raise questions about privacy and freedom while inspiring viewers with Aaron Swartz’s courage and legacy.