by Frank Ryan | September 10, 2020

In the past 4 years, we have heard countless stories and tales of Russian campaign interference, Chinese cyber-attacks, and alleged malfeasance by the Trump campaign to steal the election of 2016.

The Steele Dossier became a household term and commanded untold hours of media attention on the scam assault on our elections and campaigns by the FBI and members of the Obama Administration.  The FISA process has become tainted beyond repair.

All of these false claims were merely attempts to distract the American people from an even more insidious threat to our liberties – the absolute assault on the very fabric of our Constitutional republic with the manipulation of news, sources, access and our freedoms by the censorship of our news.

Freedom of the Press is so critical to our Bill of Rights and our liberties but what happens when the very sources of that freedom, the press, become co-opted preventing the very freedom of the press the Constitution guarantees.

In an article from the American Bar Association in 2019 called “Freedom of the Press: Challenges to this Pillar of Democracy”, the author, Stephen J. Wermeil stated:

“An essential concept in the history of freedom of the press and freedom of speech, predating the First Amendment, has been much debated: the freedom to criticize the government. In 1735, long before the creation of the United States, John Peter Zenger, printer of the New York Weekly Journal, a newspaper critical of then Governor William Cosby, was tried for seditious libel – the crime of ridiculing the government, or as practiced in England, ridiculing the king. A jury acquitted Zenger after his lawyer persuaded them of what was then a novel concept — that Zenger should be allowed to demonstrate that the statements were true as a defense. This outcome raised consciousness in the colonies about the importance of a press that was free to criticize government.”

The question though is what happens to freedom of the press and our liberties when the press is the government or the deep state.  What happens when bureaucracy controls the news outlets, distribution, what can and cannot be accessed.   When such media monopolies occur the very fabric of our Constitution become so undermined that the very concept of freedom of the press is undermined.

This discussion is more than an academic one.  In the age of social media and a culture in which employees and political agendas drive what is accessible to read and be read, perhaps the freedom of the press belongs to the people and NOT to the organizations which own them.

Twitter and Facebook have both engaged in a campaign of “fact-checking” and approving what can and cannot be posted on their sites for example.

The Twitter fact checking poses the risk that free speech of the individual is limited and their ability to relegate free speech on content with which they disagree is problematic to our liberties.

Facebook’s approach to “fact-checking” smacks in the face of almost politically and agenda driven rather than potentially fact driven.  Once again, free speech of the individual becomes secondary to the entity.

Beyond claims of fact checking, the cancel culture prevalent in corporate America and in the newsroom has sparked the debate about to whom free speech applies.   James Bennett’s resignation as New York Times Opinion Editor over a Tom Cotton editorial should cause all of us concern.  When employees can, with impunity, direct corporate strategy with no shareholder input, our entire economy becomes jeopardized.

Since knowledge is a never-ending quest for truth, it is absurd to think that a corporate or governmental entity can smoothly or honestly fact check anything.

Is it only the news media or is it the individual or is it both when it comes to our freedom of speech?  Should free speech apply only to the newsroom and social media giants, then the monopoly on free speech squelches the very freedom for the individual it is purported to protect.

The digital age brings new risks, new opportunities, and new threats.

In the days of mega steel, mega oil and mega railroads, antitrust legislative was needed to protect the economy and the consumer and keep competition vibrant.  Perhaps the 2016 election and the interference in our liberties by the social media moguls of 2020 reinforce the need to break up these virtual monopolies to enrich competition and protect our liberties and our freedom of speech.

It is time to either break up the social media giants, treat them as news distributors only and regulate them as monopolies, or force them to register as a coordinated campaign committee and register with the Federal Election Commission.

Until then, the greater threat to the 2020 election is not a foreign entity, it is a social media agenda driven algorithm desired to influence your reading, your thoughts, and your vote.

Col. Frank Ryan, CPA, USMCR (Ret) represents the 101st District in the PA House of Representatives.  He is a retired Marine Reserve Colonel and served in Iraq and briefly in Afghanistan and specializes in corporate restructuring.  He has served on numerous boards of publicly traded and non-profit organizations.  He can be reached at [email protected]