The Internet’s Own Boy Review: Remembering—And Honoring—Aaron Swartz

Sam Machkovech | Ars Technica | July 19, 2014

Documentary overcomes bias to tell reddit co-founder's tragic, remarkable story.

Every element of Aaron Swartz’s brief, remarkable life exemplifies the stuff we cover all the time on Ars. His tech-filled upbringing, his teenage rise to geek royalty, his hand in reddit’s genesis, and his online political activism made him a worthy subject of Ars conversation well before he became a household name.

Sadly, Swartz’s story didn’t reach critical mass until he took his own life nearly two years after being indicted by a federal court on twelve felony charges. The case hinged on allegations that he had downloaded 4.8 million documents from JSTOR, an online academic research archive, which he accessed from within MIT’s campus without permission.  In the weeks after his suicide, the Internet saw both a massive outpouring of grief and a comprehensive examination of what made his case so outrageous. The latter makes the new feature-length documentary about his life, The Internet’s Own Boy, less than indispensable in telling Swartz’s story, but considering the fact that he spent his final years trying to make information free and open, that’s fitting.

Where the public record falters—and where this film picks up the slack—is in making sense of Swartz’s personality. Director Brian Knappenberger can’t completely overcome the bias inherent in honoring Swartz’s memory, but he still mostly finds the right balance when recounting the coder’s life history and the rapidly changing world of technology around him. The result connects the dots between a young genius and a burdened overachiever facing decades in prison and a lifelong mark of “felon.”...