We commonly refer to journalism as the “Fourth Estate—a branch of society that wields enormous influence outside of government itself.

It is powered by forces which we generally consider impervious to manipulation by external actors such as enemy governments and rogue enterprises that can threaten democracy.

But thanks in part to the invention of the internet what shields us from wrongdoing can be compromised.

The electronic innovations that are revolutionizing the ways we communicate and have brought information to the most remote and closed off regions of earth can also imperil our safety when employed for insidious purposes. 

For evidence we need look no further than Silicon Valley—a technological colossus housing California-born-and-bred companies which are open to exploitation that can be disruptive of how we manage our affairs both here and around the world.

Foremost, though not alone among them is Facebook, the Menlo Park-based company, which is at the center of a storm linking negligence on its part to Russian interference in the November 2016 presidential election by sowing massive amounts of disinformation which many believe might have altered the outcome.

Influencing elections by underhanded means is nothing  new to politics. But invading the very systems through which we maintain order in society imperils the foundations on which we have agreed to be governed.

Whether there was complicity between higher-ups in the Trump administration and Russian agents is a principal subject of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s continuing investigation which in the most extreme circumstances could lead to the undoing of this presidency.

Meanwhile Facebook, a vehicle for social change which can influence the actions of millions with few restraints could be the unwitting accomplice to actions of a hostile nation intent on creating chaos.

It is sure to be joined by other technological leaders in the same neighborhood in a broadening congressional inquiry as to whether social media networks have become vulnerable to hacking by foreign powers.

If there is widespread foul play that is going undetected, it could affect the upcoming mid-term elections and even become a factor in the next presidential campaign.

While Facebook has acknowledged that it did not exercise proper care that resulted in the circulation of misleading data, how hard it and and its counterparts are working to correct these security issues and whether they will succeed is pure speculation.

The company has been hiring counter-terrorism experts with government security clearances and is using the latest artificial intelligence techniques to root out suspicious activities.

The impact of its inattentiveness is already having dire results with the company having lost $120 billion in market value in just the past week.

But while the financial losses to a single company are big enough to have created jitters that are rattling other sectors of the economy, the long-term impacts to democratic government should be of greater concern.

Given the import of the November elections which could alter the balance of power in one or both houses of Congress, the stakes are especially high in California where seven GOP House incumbents have been targeted.

A loss by only four or five could be sufficient to return control to the Democrats.

In a rare display of bipartisanship, the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina and the top Democrat on the panel, Sen.| Mark Warner of Virginia, appear to be working in lock-step to further confirm what are seemingly indisputable findings of involvement by the Kremlin.

Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, has declared, “The warning lights are blinking red again.”

California’s Secretary of State has not issued any warnings so far that California’s voting systems are in jeopardy, nor was any foreign tampering disclosed in the previous election.

But with charges of electoral malpractice now engulfing this Administration the stakes are suddenly much higher and the president’s very discomforting coziness with Vladimir Putin has further clouded the picture.

Whatever his motivations may be, we cannot become subservient to the whims of a foreign leader, let alone a dictator, except at great risk. This would be crossing a line which no previous U.S. president ever has.

Perhaps we will someday look back upon the technological progress we have made as one of the crowning achievements of this era.

However, this could be easily eclipsed if the price for doing so is the loss of our freedoms.