Fox News openly promotes lies and conspiracy theories to boost ratings. The network also fought against pandemic restrictions and the vaccine that would save lives.

It’s always been important to me to advocate for free speech because it was a catalyst for our democracy and remains one of our nation’s underpinnings. The signers of the Declaration of Independence exercised free speech and in doing so committed treason against their British king. Their bravery is what led to the founding of the United States.

I have represented employees fired for exercising their right to free speech and have supported organizations like the ACLU for defending the right of the Ku Klux Klan to exercise its right to protest, being able to protest is an exercise of free speech that was critical to the founding of our democracy and the civil rights movement.

What would have become of that movement if Martin Luther King Jr. was unable to speak or if he was barred from leading protest marches? If we can protest for our civil rights, then people and groups that are antithetical to my core beliefs – like the Ku Klux Klan – should also have that same right, as abhorrent as their beliefs may be.

Our open society has led to great creativity. Americans have been at the forefront of innovation; it’s what propelled our country to be one of the greatest powers in the modern world. We created the light bulb and the mass production of automobiles. We were one of the first to fly. We created modern-day air travel with Pan Am flying from Miami to Cuba by sea plane. We still lead in innovation having created the internet.

I now wonder if free speech and the internet will be the downfall of our democracy.

The internet has been exploited by Russia, China and Iran to adversely influence our elections. Online platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow conspiracy theories and lies to flourish and spread in an instant. Donald Trump, the great advertiser, used social media to herald his racist ideals and to organize the deadly Jan.6, 2021, attack on our Capitol.

I believe the internet has led to the great divide in our country and the fall of civility. You can publish hate speech on the internet anonymously or even openly with little or no consequence.

The idea that one’s world philosophy is the only right philosophy has flourished to the point that neighbors are against neighbors and even family members have split. Those schisms and the rampant culture wars are regularly exploited by politicians and influencers to achieve their goals of attaining power at all costs. As a result, our country is now more divided than it’s been since the Civil War.

Americans have come to distrust every institution, from police and the courts to elected officials and the media. Gone are the days when we trusted and believed the words of newscasters like Walter Cronkite. We now have organizations like Fox News openly promoting lies and conspiracy theories to boost their ratings.

I watch with horror how media outlets like Fox spew harmful rhetoric to support a political agenda that frequently makes no sense. Trump, to his credit, accelerated the creation of a vaccine to fight COVID-19, but Fox fought against pandemic restrictions and the shot that would save lives.

The consequence? More than a million Americans are dead and many millions more became unnecessarily ill because they refused to get vaccinated. Vaccination became a political issue instead of a public health issue and respected doctors like Anthony Fauci received death threats because they dispensed advice on how to keep people safe.

Our open and free speech society is both a blessing and curse. Unlike citizens in many countries – like China, Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia – American citizens can openly criticize our government. We can speak out on social media, in the press and by protest on the streets. The problem is that it continues to be exploited by rogue nations to influence our elections and rip open fissures in our society. It is easy for Russia to create a fake account on Facebook and disseminate lies.

Now Elon Musk oversees one of the greatest communication platforms available – Twitter. Since he bought the company, hate speech has gone up 500%, foreign terrorist groups are exploiting his removal of controls on the platform and our own domestic terrorist groups are using it to spread hateful propaganda.

The greatest threat to American democracy is homegrown terrorism championed by unscrupulous politicians. We are in a dangerous era. Hate speech has real consequences, like the attack of Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, after a sustained campaign by Republican politicians targeting her to score political points.

Is killing or mortally attacking an elected official – or their spouse – now acceptable?

Reginald Clyne

We need to control the social media free speech genie, shove it back in the bottle, and bring civility and truth back to the forefront. I dream that Fox’s libelous, slanderous ways lead to massive lawsuits that put it out of business. I dream that Musk loses his shirt and Twitter goes bankrupt. There must be repercussions to espousing hate speech and lies, and right now our society has no check other than people of conscience rejecting Twitter, Fox News and the political leaders who divide us.

It's time for laws that require news organizations to publish the truth or lose their license to broadcast. People and organizations who advocate hate and division – on TV, online, in podcasts, in print and on the radio – should be shut down.

Reginald J. Clyne is a Miami trial lawyer who has practiced in some of the largest law firms in the United States. Clyne has been in practice since 1987 and tries cases in both state and federal court. He has lived in Africa, Brazil, Honduras and Nicaragua.