Regulating Speech with Bayesian Audiences

30 Pages Posted: 16 Sep 2019 Last revised: 20 Nov 2019

See all articles by Yonathan A. Arbel

Yonathan A. Arbel

University of Alabama - School of Law

Murat C. Mungan

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty

Date Written: September 12, 2019


Defamation law fines speakers who make certain false statements, because such statements mislead their audience. It is commonly thought that stricter defamation laws offer better protection against misleading statements. Here, we study the audience's equilibrium behavior and beliefs in the presence of defamation laws of varying strictness.

We find that both lax and strict defamation laws have undesirable consequences. Strict and lax regulation of information make speech largely unreliable by deterring truthful negative remarks and failing to deter frivolous statements, respectively. Under a large set of circumstances, the optimal regulation of communications should be moderate, to facilitate the effective communication of private information and to balance a trade-off between deterring defamation, chilling truthful criticisms, and litigation costs. The court's competency plays a key role in determining the optimal defamation regime, and when courts are sufficiently capable of sorting out frivolous defamation claims, the optimal defamation regime leads to a separating equilibrium where statements always accurately inform the audience.

Although our analysis focuses specifically on defamation law, it is illustrative of the dynamics present in many other contexts where the law regulates disclosure by interested private parties to a Bayesian audience. We discuss some of these contexts, including securities regulations, whistle-blowers, jury trials, and reports of criminal activity.

Keywords: information regulation, defamation, disclosure

Suggested Citation

Arbel, Yonathan A. and Mungan, Murat C., Regulating Speech with Bayesian Audiences (September 12, 2019). U of Alabama Legal Studies Research Paper No. 3452662; George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper 19-28. Available at SSRN: or

Yonathan A. Arbel (Contact Author)

University of Alabama - School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 870382
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487
United States

Murat C. Mungan

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty ( email )

3301 Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22201
United States

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics