Discussing Aaron’s Suicide: Q and A at Aaron Swartz Day 2014

Trevor Timm, John Perry Barlow, Brian Knappenberger, and Lisa Rein, during the Q & A panel, after a special screening of “The Internet’s Own Boy” in the Internet Archive’s Great Room, at Aaron Swartz Day, November 8, 2014.

Audio clip:

Link to full Aaron Swartz Day 2014 Video.
The transcript below has been edited slightly for readability.

Lisa: Brian, when you were making this movie, and you had lots and lots of footage, how did you go about deciding which story you were actually gonna tell? One of the things that people who are not familiar with the story sometimes say to me, when they see your film for the first time, is that they are curious about the way that you handled the suicide at the end.

For me, it made sense, because, one thing that I think a lot of us could agree on, when we talked about it, after he died, was that it *didn’t* really make sense. He had had bouts with depression, from time to time, like a lot of people, but it wasn’t really anything that anyone was expecting, or that anyone could go “oh, we knew that was gonna happen,” or, “we were afraid that was going to happen” — that sort of thing.

I liked the way you sort of got that across in the film. How did you decide how you were gonna treat that issue? It was very sad at the end, but you definitely decided not to dwell on it.

Brian: Yeah. I mean, so much was written about Aaron, right after he died. And some of it, at least, had to do with depression or speculating on the role that it might of played in his death. So, I certainly, read everything. I mean, before we even started filming – when I was still in the early stages, I tried to read everybody’s take on it. A lot of people were doing first hand accounts and stuff, but the New Yorker did a piece that was almost exclusively focused on that issue.  And so I decided to take it, and basically just ask the people who were closest to him and try to understand what role it played.

The conclusion I came to is that, Taren, who lived with him during the last years of his life, she doesn’t believe that he suffered from that. Or, that he may have had something like that in his early 20s, but not when she lived with him. His brothers and other people close to him describe a kind of sensitivity, of carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders; the need to want to fix everything, almost. And so I just kind of weighted, based on what I found. I think that’s the short answer.

I think some of that was letting the government off the hook, in some ways. That’s just the conclusion that I came to. That assigning too much to “depression,” was a way of sort of distracting from this two year legal nightmare that would have certainly put anybody in a difficult position.

Lisa: Right. As if it was something where, he could have had a bad day, and done anyway, and not something that he was driven to from the situation. I guess that’s what bothered me too, when people talked about the depression, and they left out the whole part about the relentless, daily persecution by this case on his life.

Brian: Yeah, I mean, people go through worse and don’t take their own life, obviously. So, it was just something that I thought a lot about. I basically proceeded by talking to people who were close to him and trying to understand who he was, and what role that played, and I think I got some pretty candid, and pretty honest answers about that.

John Perry: I don’t have reason to say this, but I’m gonna say it anyway. It occurs to me, even though I know that Aaron Swartz would’ve been a truly extraordinary force in the world, had he lived. I’m not certain that he would’ve been the extraordinary force in the world that he became by dying when he did, and I’m not certain that he didn’t know that. It’s not out of the question in my mind that he made a strategic and very hard decision to allow himself to be a martyr to this cause at this particular point.

Lisa: I thought of that too, except that one would say that making a pragmatic decision about the timing of taking your life isn’t necessarily a sane decision to make.

john perry

White House Finally Responds Officially To “We The People” Petition Demanding The Firing of U.S. Distric Attorney Carmen Ortiz

This petition was originally published January 13, 2013, and reached its necessary signatures many months ago.

On January 7, 2015, the Whitehouse sent out this email to everyone who signed it, and published this same statement on the same petition page.

Response to We the People Petitions on U.S. Attorney’s Office Personnel Matters

Aaron Swartz’s death was a tragic, unthinkable loss for his family and friends. Our sympathy continues to go out to those who were closest to him, and to the many others whose lives he touched.

We also reaffirm our belief that a spirit of openness is what makes the Internet such a powerful engine for economic growth, technological innovation, and new ideas. That’s why members of the Administration continue to engage with advocates to ensure the Internet remains a free and open platform as technology continues to disrupt industries and connect our communities in ways we can’t yet imagine. We will continue this engagement as we tackle new questions on key issues such as citizen participation in democracy, open access to information, privacy, intellectual property, free speech, and security.

As to the specific personnel-related requests raised in your petitions, our response must be limited. Consistent with the terms we laid out when we began We the People, we will not address agency personnel matters in a petition response, because we do not believe this is the appropriate forum in which to do so.


Join Lawrence Lessig’s New Hampshire Rebellion January Walk

From Lawrence Lessig:

On the morning of January 11, the anniversary of the death of my friend, Aaron Swartz, and at the place where the voting in America’s 2016 presidential election will start, Dixville Notch, we will begin the second of three walks across the state of New Hampshire.

We will also be honoring Doris “Granny D” Haddock who walked from LA to DC at the age of 88 because she understood the biggest obstacle to solving any important issue in America today — regardless of political viewpoint — is the role of money in politics.

Politicians believe America doesn’t get this. We’re walking to prove them wrong: https://walk.nhrebellion.org.

For eleven days — January 11th through 21st — we will walk across New Hampshire with hundreds of citizens demonstrating that New Hampshire and the nation want to know how our elected leaders are going to end the corrupting influence of money in politics. We demand a solution. And we’d like your help.

Please join us in New Hampshire and walk with us: https://walk.nhrebellion.org or volunteer: http://www.nhrebellion.org/volunteer.

If you can’t join the walk, you can still support us other ways:

– Register as a virtual walker: https://walk.nhrebellion.org

– Support my walk: https://walk.nhrebellion.org/lessig

– Donate your Twitter and Facebook accounts:        https://donateyouraccount.com/nhrebellion

– Read about last year’s walk and share with your friends:

Join us. Support us. And please spread this idea.


15 MIT Websites Hacked In Honor Of The Second Anniversary of Aaron’s Death

OpAaronSwartz: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Subdomains Hacked

From the January 3, 2015 opaaronswartz-MITHackRead article:

A hacker going with the handle of @ulzr1z on Twitter has hacked and partially defaced fifteen sub-domains of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) website amid Swartz death anniversary.

The attack was conducted under the banner of #OpAaronSwartz where hacker left a message in support of Aaron Hillel Swartz on several sub-domains of the MIT’s Lab.

Links of all targeted domains along with their mirrors as a proof of hack are available here.

This is not the first time when MIT websites are under attack in support of Aaron Swartz. Last year Anonymous hackers hacked the MIT website to mark first death anniversary of Aaron Swartz. Anonymous also hacked U.S. Justice Department Website and left a warning message over Aaron Swartz’s death.

@ulzr1z also posted an inside screenshot of WordPress content management system of the MIT website as a proof.




“The Internet’s Own Boy” On the Oscar Documentary “Short List”

aaron darkBrian Knappenberger’s amazing documentary is now in line to potentially be awarded one of its highest honors.

I must say that I am thrilled and more than a little impressed by the Academy’s choosing “The Internet’s Own Boy” and “Citizen Four” in the same year.

For me, the takeaway is clear: the issues that Aaron fought for, and that Edward Snowden is still fighting for, are finally hitting home with enough people that these ideals are no longer seen as “fringe” concerns.


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today announced that 15 films in the Documentary Feature category will advance in the voting process for the 87th Oscars®.  One hundred thirty-four films were originally submitted in the category.

The 15 films are listed below in alphabetical order by title, with their production companies:

“Art and Craft,” Purple Parrot Films
“The Case against 8,” Day in Court
“Citizen Koch,” Elsewhere Films
“CitizenFour,” Praxis Films
“Finding Vivian Maier,” Ravine Pictures
“The Internet’s Own Boy,” Luminant Media
“Jodorowsky’s Dune,” City Film
“Keep On Keepin’ On,” Absolute Clay Productions
“The Kill Team,” f/8 filmworks
“Last Days in Vietnam,” Moxie Firecracker Films
“Life Itself,” Kartemquin Films and Film Rites
“The Overnighters,” Mile End Films West
“The Salt of the Earth,” Decia Films
“Tales of the Grim Sleeper,” Lafayette Film
“Virunga,” Grain Media

The Academy’s Documentary Branch determined the shortlist in a preliminary round of voting.  Documentary Branch members will now select the five nominees from among the 15 titles.

The 87th Academy Awards® nominations will be announced live on Thursday, January 15, 2015, at 5:30 a.m. PT in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

The Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 22, 2015, at the Dolby Theatre® at Hollywood & Highland Center® in Hollywood, and will be televised live by the ABC Television Network.  The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.



Stop “Title X” – The Latest Net Neutrality-killing Legislation Threat

Congress wants to backstab the Internet with “Title X”

From the Fight for the Future website:

Congress leaders are planning on starting 2015 with a bill called “Title X” that would compromise the World Wide Web by taking away the FCC’s ability to protect the open Internet and giving cable companies the power to charge for less access. This bill would be a huge betrayal to the millions of Internet users that demanded that Congress support real net neutrality.

The FCC will be making its own decision on net neutrality in February, but if Congress introduces “Title X” first, it could hijack the entire process and reverse any progress for net neutrality. Meanwhile the politicians crafting “Title X” have already taken massive amounts of cash from cable companies. These politicians need to be held accountable for trying to gut net neutrality.

Please spread this page with your friends and family. Sign the petition to tell Congress to drop their fake bill and support real net neutrality.

Screening in Los Angeles with Q & A with Brian Knappenberger Afterwards

To do in LA: screening and Q&A with director of Aaron Swartz doc, “The Internet’s Own Boy”


If you’re in Los Angeles this evening, please join me at a special screening of the documentary about the late Aaron Swartz, “The Internet’s Own Boy.” The film has been shortlisted for an Academy Award. After the screening, I will host a question and answer session with the film’s director, Brian Knappenberger.

RSVP here.

WHEN: Tonight, January 5, 2015. Film starts promptly at 730pm. Get there by 7.

WHERE: Annenberg Space for Photography Skylight Studios, 10050 Constellation Boulevard, Los Angeles (Century City), CA 90067. Self-Parking in Garage Underneath. $1.00 with validation.