Review: THE INTERNET'S OWN BOY (2014) Tragic and fascinating documentary of computer prodigy Aaron Swartz

July 2, 2014


THE INTERNET'S OWN BOY (2014) Aaron Swartz, Timber Timbre, Cindy Cohn, Gabriella Coleman, Cory Doctorow, Peter Eckersley Directed by Brian Knappenberger

In 2013, computer prodigy, Aaron Swartz, took his own life at the age of 26 but not before achieving some major accomplishments which included roles in the development of RSS feeds for web sites and the popular social site Reddit. A freedom of information activist, Aaron wanted to make the world a better place by utilizing the power of the internet, an outlet where everyone has a voice but not everyone is heard.

A series of home movies, interviews with family and friends, and technology pioneers like Tim Berners-Lee, the man who invented the world wide web and gave it away for free, help tell this tragic story. Aaron learned to read at the age of 3, started writing code a few years later, and as a young teenager he was already assisting corporations and flying to various conferences. Aaron didn't like the idea that some companies charged for information that was supposed to be free and available to the public and he began a massive campaign to release information and make it available to everyone.

In 2010, Swartz, using MIT access, hacked into the academic journal storage system, JSTOR, and began downloading and releasing millions of documents, a move that eventually led to the government charging him with 13 felony counts, a $1 million dollar fine and a possible prison sentence of 50 years. Aaron was devastated and it was obvious that the Feds were looking to make an example out of him. It pushed Swartz over the edge and he took his own life, but even in those last few days of his life Aaron continued to be an activist and was critical in the movement that stopped the anti-piracy initiative SOPA from passing.

Director Brian Knappenberger's film comes across as biased towards his subject primarily because no one involved with Aaron's prosecution agreed to take part or be interviewed for the film. It's an emotional documentary that stirs up feelings of anger and sadness, a tragic story about such a bright and promising individual.

(3 1/2 stars)

Showing at Bijou Cinema Bistro in San Antonio.