The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz

Movie review by
Amanda Nojadera, Common Sense Media
The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz Movie Poster Image
Docu focuses on activist's passion for open access to info.
  • NR
  • 2014
  • 105 minutes

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Positive Messages

The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz takes the position that information for learning should be made public for all. Viewers are encouraged to find the issues that they're passionate about and fight for them.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Aaron Swartz was a bright and talented man whose love of learning began at a very young age. He was constantly striving to fix the world and make it a better place. Aaron wanted to make information on the Internet accessible to everyone and fought against legislation like SOPA.


A few images of violence between cops and protestors. Aaron's family talks about Aaron's arrest and how he was beaten by the cops and put in solitary confinement.


A couple of uses of "s--t," "f--k," "hell," and "oh my God."


Plenty of well-known companies are referenced in the documentary, including Reddit, JSTOR, Google, Wikipedia, Conde Nast, Apple, Flickr, and the New York Times, to name a few -- though it's not in a promotional way. The movie emphasizes the fact that corporate greed prevents information on the Internet from being accessible to everyone.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz is a documentary that highlights the life and work of Internet influencer Aaron Swartz, while also questioning how much control we have over the Internet and the ways that greed affects the amount of information that people can access. The movie includes interviews with Aaron's family and colleagues, as well as clips from Aaron's own interviews with various news outlets. Internet concepts like RSS and Creative Commons (which Aaron helped develop), as well as legislation like SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act), PIPA (Protect IP Act), and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act are explained as simply as possible. Expect some strong language ("f--k," "s--t," etc.) and a few images of clashes between protestors and the police, as well as Aaron's family talking about details of his arrest and time in solitary confinement.

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What's the story?

THE INTERNET'S OWN BOY, which premiered at the 2014 Sundance Festival, details renowned "hactivist" Aaron Swartz's early fascination with computers and eagerness to learn, which helped him become one of the brightest minds involved with the creation of the Internet as we know it today. Some of his achievements including creating RSS, helping develop Creative Commons, and co-founding Reddit. Although he wasn't interested in formal schooling, Swartz believed people should always be questioning society in order to understand how we can make it better. His passion for libraries and accessible information drove him to download almost 4 million scholarly journals from JSTOR. Unfortunately, this led to his arrest and a two-year legal battle under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act before his tragic death. Swartz's dedication to prevent SOPA (Stop Online Privacy Act) from passing inspired many, including major companies like Wikipedia and Google, to create a blackout for a single day emphasizing his belief that the Internet should be free and open for everyone.

Is it any good?

With The Internet's Own Boy, director Brian Knappenberger has crafted an inspiring documentary that does more than portray Swartz as an information hacktivist. Instead, viewers get to know him as a smart, driven man who dedicated his life to bringing public access to the public domain. The home videos of Swartz as a young boy highlight his love of learning, and the interviews with colleagues like Tim Berners-Lee show just how important and respected Swartz was across online communities.

Although the film often moves at a fast pace and the Internet terms and political lingo may be confusing for younger viewers, Knappenberger's decision to end on a hopeful note after tastefully acknowledging Swartz's death, proves just how influential Swartz's work is and will continue to be as long as people keep fighting for the right to access all the knowledge the Internet has to offer.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Aaron Swartz. Did you know who he was or what he did before watching the documentary? How could you find out more if you wanted to?

  • To what extent do you think the government or major corporations should be able to control online content -- and the public's ability to access it?

  • Aaron was passionate about making knowledge accessible for everyone. What issues are you passionate about?

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