Free speech scholars and advocates have written about the general decline in freedom of expression that has occurred over the past two decades. Despite great technological advances that make communicating immensely easier—social media, encrypted communications, and ubiquitous computers and cell phones—many governmental policies and public opinion around the world have soured on the importance of expression.

In this recession of free speech, the Future of Free Speech project, a collaborative venture between the Justitia think tank and Vanderbilt University, has released a report that examines the importance of free speech as a “safety valve” to prevent social conflict. Among the issues studied in the report is the common belief today that “extreme” or disfavored speech around contentious topics can lead to violence and social conflict. This belief can even be seen in the glib slogans “silence is violence” or “words are violence.”

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Jacob Mchangama is the Founder and Executive Director of The Future of Free Speech. He is also a research professor at Vanderbilt University and a Senior Fellow at The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE).