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Freedom of expression has been in global decline for more than a decade, endangering one of the most important and contested values of human civilization. Left unchecked this free speech recession threatens individual freedom, civil society, democratic institutions and progress in science and philosophy.

The reasons for the free speech recession are many, including the rise of global authoritarianism. But even in open societies the democratization and virality of online speech is increasingly seen as a threat rather than the precondition for well-functioning, free, tolerant and pluralist societies. To better understand and counter this development Justitia proposes to launch an inter-disciplinary project on “The Future of Free Speech” (FFS) in cooperation with Columbia Global Freedom of Expression (CGFE). In pursuing this theme, FFS will seek to answer three Big Questions: Why is freedom of speech in global decline? What are the benefits and harms of free speech? How can we create a resilient culture of free speech?

FFS will carry out a three-part effort to confront this problem and answer these questions. (1) Through polling and research, we will measure global attitudes to and analyze whether common concerns and arguments used to justify restrictions of free speech are based on real or imagined harms. (2) FFS will work to defend and strengthen existing standards needed to withstand the global authoritarian onslaught on freedom of expression. (3) Through outreach, we will empower activists, policy makers, academics and other critical stakeholders with the data, arguments and standards to help turn the tide of the free speech recession.

These efforts will result in reports, articles, resources, events, professional and activist networks, media, and more. Ultimately, FFS aims to generate the knowledge and spark the activism needed to energize activists, persuade sceptics, resist authoritarians and foster a resilient global culture of free speech.