In 2013, Aaron Swartz, a young computer genius, committed suicide because President Obama failed to keep the promises that brought him to power. This is not a stretch. And Swartz is just some of the blood on the hands of our country's first black president. Obama promised us change, but instead the policies of his predecessors remained unchanged. One of those policies, with the view of catching imaginary terrorists, basically gave US prosecutors and the FBI an enormous amount of power over the internet. Swartz became entangled in this post-9/11 order of surveillance, monitoring, and unchecked state enforcement when he attempted to download, of all things, academic papers from MIT. This was his only crime. Downloading in the public's interest papers whose research is often paid for with public dollars, and which are sold by JSTOR, a digital library.
I was the ideal audience for this documentary. I knew about the tragedy but not its details. I knew Swartz had been a player in Reddit's rise to success and that he was an internet activist. I knew he hanged himself. I knew it had something to do with a case the Feds aggressively brought against him. I knew he was not a terrorist. But that was just the surface of things. The Internet's Own Boy, a documentary by Brian Knappenberger, filled in all of the gaps. Aaron was a genius child (he could read with the ease of a young adult by age 3), a genius boy (he set up a prototype of Wikipedia at 12), a genius teenager (he dropped out of Stanford—too boring), and a genius young man (he made loads of money with an internet startup). He rejected corporate culture and pursued a vision of internet democracy that was and still is radically at odds with capitalism. He paid with his life for that vision. The documentary is focused and engaging. You will leave this film with the sick feeling that you live in a very sick country.