The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz
The heartbreaking story of the astonishing life and tragic suicide of local Highland Park native Aaron Swartz (1986-2013) is told in the acclaimed 2014 documentary “The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz.” Written, directed, and produced by Brian Knappenberger, this engrossing film premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, and is shortlisted for Best Documentary Feature for the upcoming 87th Academy Awards. For this very special event, the Family Action Network (FAN) is honored to welcome Knappenberger, Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig (who was Aaron’s friend, collaborator, and sometimes-attorney) and Swartz’s father, Robert Swartz, to offer commentary and answer questions after the screening.
Swartz was a computer programmer, entrepreneur, writer, political organizer, and activist widely regarded as one of the Internet’s most accomplished and brilliant innovators. He was a prodigy — at age 13, he won the ArsDigita Prize; at 14, he became a member of the working group that helped developed the RSS 1.0 web feed; he co-founded Reddit and Demand Progress as a young adult.
As he became prominent internationally for his pioneering work, Swartz focused on political advocacy to protect civil liberties and government reform. He was particularly dismayed about the “privatization of knowledge,” and worked to make public information available online free of charge, rather than owned by private corporations and locked behind digital paywalls. In January of 2011, Swartz was arrested in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and ultimately faced 13 federal charges alleging that he used JSTOR, a digital library of academic journals, to download a large number of articles through MIT’s computer network. He faced decades of imprisonment and $1 million in fines. Numerous prominent critics have accused the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts of overzealous prosecution; both MIT and JSTOR had declined to press civil charges against Swartz. 2 days after the federal prosecutors rejected a counter-offer from Swartz, he was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment by his partner.
The day Swartz died, Lawrence Lessig blogged: “He was brilliant, and funny. A kid genius. A soul, a conscience, the source of a question I have asked myself a million times: ‘What would Aaron think?’ That person is gone today, driven to the edge by what a decent society would only call bullying. I get wrong. But I also get proportionality. And if you don’t get both, you don’t deserve to have the power of the United States government behind you.” Join us on Sunday afternoon for a powerful film experience, followed by an engaging discussion between father, filmmaker, and friend.