The lines from “Areopagitica” are duly qualified, this way.
I deny not, but that it is of greatest concernment in the Church and Commonwealth, to have a vigilant eye how Bookes demeane themselves as well as men; and thereafter to confine, imprison, and do sharpest justice on them as malefactors: For Books are not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a potencie of life in them to be as active as that soule was whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a violl the purest efficacie and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous Dragons teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men. And yet on the other hand, unlesse warinesse be us’d, as good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book; who kills a Man kills a reasonable creature, Gods Image; but hee who destroyes a good Booke, kills reason it selfe, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the Earth; but a good Booke is the pretious life-blood of a master spirit, imbalm’d and treasur’d up on purpose to a life beyond life.
And sometimes it’s possible online to watch editors learn the use of wariness.
A regular dogpaddler in the comment stream of The Chronicle of Higher Education, for instance, used to be a person who wrote under the name of S. Britchky. About article after article, week after week, S. would write in to say exactly one thing, over and over: “Today I am indignant about . . .” After a while, other readers began complaining about the burden to the Earth, and then the editors of the Chronicle ordered S. out of the stream.
More recently, the comment stream of Salon was blocked every day by a troll who wrote under the name of Wang Dang Doodle. It was like putting up with the expellee who brings an airhorn to commencement. However, the inhumanity that turned Doodle into an extension of his horn has now turned itself against him (or her, assuming Doodle is still human enough to have a sex). Salon now processes all its comments through an editorial algorithm called Livefyre, and that surrender to the machine has secured the reopening of the stream. As a reading experience, the change has been dramatic. It’s as if robot surgery has given Salon a brain transplant. Algorithm 1, airhorn 0: surrounded by Livefyre like so many Brünnhildes, we can now sleep on for a while longer, happily dreaming that we’re human after all.
So I’ve just set a ring of Livefyre alight around this blog’s comment function.