Godwin's Law: One Man's Quest to Civilize the Internet

Ah, the internet. A place of rational discussion and a calm exchange of ideas. LOL, JK: it's chock full of angry rants and personal insults among anonymous commenters. So much so that it led one man to conceive a rule of internet debate known as Godwin's Law: the longer the argument, the more likely one side is to compare the other to Hitler.

Related: The No True Scotsman Fallacy Is An Appeal To Purity

The "Law Of Nazi Analogies"

In 1994, Mike Godwin noticed how frequently those posting on Usenet newsgroups (the precursor to Internet forums) would compare the people or ideas they found distasteful to Nazis or Adolf Hitler, misusing and trivializing a horrific topic. As he wrote in an article for WIRED, "I developed Godwin's Law of Nazi Analogies: As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one." Any time he saw a Nazi or Hitler reference in a newsgroup, he would quote his law. Soon, others were quoting it when they saw an offending argument, and eventually his efforts worked: the frequency of Nazi comparisons declined. Since then, Godwin's Law has become a rule of internet discourse, making appearances everywhere from Facebook threads to news-article comment sections.

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Godwin's Law Today

More than 20 years later, Godwin's Law is still just as relevant. Mike Godwin is still around—on the internet, even!—and in December 2015, he wrote an article for The Washington Post where he weighed in on the Nazi analogy in modern day.

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"It's still true, of course, that the worst thing you can say about your opponents, in our culture, is that they're like Hitler or the Nazis," Godwin wrote. "But I'm hopeful that we can prod our glib online rhetorical culture into a more thoughtful, historically reflective space. In 2015, the Internet gives more and more individuals both the information and the skepticism to question what politicians and others say in their Hitler-centered hyperboles. Just as importantly, the Internet gives us the tools to share our criticisms [...] with one another more widely."

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Watch And Learn: Our Favorite Videos About The Internet

Three Laws Of The Internet

You've heard of Godwin's Law, but what about Poe's Law?

Key Facts In This Video

  1. Godwin's Law states that the longer an argument goes on, the more likely it is that one side will call the other a Nazi or compare them to Hitler. The person who made the comparison automatically loses the argument and the conversation should cease. 02:33

  2. Lewis's Law states that the comments left on anything about feminism will justify feminism. 05:16

  3. Poe's Law states that on the internet, unless the author's intent is clearly communicated, parodies of extremism will be mistaken for honest extremism, and vice versa. 08:19

Why Internet Arguments Are Useless

The internet is not the place for changing people's minds.

Written by Ashley Hamer May 9, 2016

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