Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

The Internet’s Own Boy: The story of Aaron Swartz

The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (2014).

Noah Berger

3 out of 4 stars

Directed by
Brian Knappenberger

On the recent HBO comedy series Silicon Valley, one of the funniest recurring bits involved unwashed geeks boasting that they and their frivolous apps were going to "make the world a better place." But two years ago, Aaron Swartz, a programming prodigy, actually did that.

When the U.S. Congress threatened to pass the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which critics called a dangerously overreaching piece of legislation, Swartz organized rallies, spoke to media, and inspired regular people to march in the streets.

On Jan. 18, 2012, major sites such as Wikipedia went dark for the day. And Congress, astonishingly, backed down. The incident was a "proof of concept" moment for Swartz, a restless intellect who had been trying to evolve from nerdy coder – he helped develop the RSS format, and was a founder of Reddit and other democratically-oriented sites – to a hacker of politics. But the U.S. government had other ideas, and they squeezed him hard for an earlier incident, in which Swartz had tapped into a mainframe computer at MIT and downloaded millions of academic journals without authorization.

Story continues below advertisement

In January, 2013, as his criminal trial approached, he died by suicide. Director Brian Knappenberger, who also directed We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists, delivers a touching, morally outraged portrait that, in memory of Swartz, may inspire people to ask hard questions about how the new world is being shaped away from view, behind closed doors.

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author
Senior Media Writer

Simon Houpt is the Globe and Mail's senior media writer, charged with covering the industry's transformation. He began his career with The Globe in 1999 as the paper's New York arts correspondent, covering the cultural life of that city through Canadian eyes. More


The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨