Aaron Swartz and the Internet

Reflection on “The Internet’s Own Boy”

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The Ben Knapperberger film of the late Aaron Swartz does a phenomenal job of describing the activist’s short, but brilliant life. From start to finish you get a great idea of what he was like and the person he wanted to be. I am someone who is in favor of all that Swartz fought for. He was clearly very educated on all that he protested for and worked diligently to see that his goals would be reached. Personally, I am a redditor and I remember when this happened because of how big of a deal it was on reddit. Many of the ideas Swartz fought against, such as SOPA/PIPA, reddit was very keen as a community to fight against as well. It was a sad day to say the least when the news came out that Swartz had committed suicide. It is unfair that the government made such an example out of someone who truly cared for what he believed in and had a passion to change the law for the better.

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One of the things I found about the film was that the interviews of the friends and family who knew Swartz were powerful and everything the people said regarded Swartz as a pioneer for internet freedom. I also noticed that they were often overly positive about Swartz and his doings. When the film discussed the incident regarding how Swartz broke into the supply closet at MIT and downloaded all those JSTOR articles, I felt as though it was rather obvious that he was trying to release those articles to the public. The film, however, spun it as a something about a research experiment Swartz was working on regarding. I do think that the case against Swartz was rather weak considering they did not have true proof of what his intentions were. Like the film says,

“In a project for Stanfood Law Students, Swartz had downloaded the Westlaw legal database. He uncovered troubling connections between funders of legal research and favorable results.”

This is basically saying that for-profit companies were giving money to law professors who wrote law review articles that ended up being beneficial to those companies. I think that it is definitely possible he was intending to work on that project, but the incident made me think he must have been planning to release them to the public. Obviously, that is still not evidence of his motives but it was not a smart move to pull this stunt. Despite his actions, I still have immense respect for Swartz. He worked endlessly for what he believed in and this was an action that would have served his cause’s best interest. Unfortunately, it was very risky and costed him greatly.

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Overall, the film was well done and was very emotional to watch. The viewer definitely gets a sense of the heartbreak in Swartz’s death. It shocked his family and so many of his followers. In losing Swartz we lost both a pioneer for what we believed in and an amazing human being. That being said, the spirit of Swartz lives on in the future protests and activism for all the ideas he believes in.