Poe's law, named after its author Nathan Poe, is a literary adage which stipulates that, without a clear indicator of an author's intention, it is often impossible to tell the difference between an expression of sincere extremism and a parody of such extremism. Someone will likely mistake the parody for a genuine article, or vice-versa.
The name "Poe's Law" refers to a reply posted in 2005 by Nathan Poe on an internet forum about Christianity (christianforums.com), in the context of a debate about creationism. The original sentence referred specifically to creationism, but the "law" has been generalized to apply to any kind of fundamentalism or extremism.
Poe's remark was actually a concise restatement of advice often posted on internet forums, about the need to clearly mark sarcasm and parody (e.g., with a smiling emoticon) to avoid confusion. As early as 1983, Jerry Schwarz, in a post on Usenet, wrote:
8. Avoid sarcasm and facetious remarks.
Without the voice inflection and body language of personal communication these are easily misinterpreted. A sideways smile, :-), has become widely accepted on the net as an indication that "I'm only kidding". If you submit a satiric item without this symbol, no matter how obvious the satire is to you, do not be surprised if people take it seriously.
- Poe, Nathan (11 August 2005). "Big contradictions in the evolution theory". christianforums.com. Archived from the original on May 31, 2014. Retrieved August 20, 2011.
Originally Posted by Pete Harcoff "Good thing you included the winky. Otherwise people might think you are serious." - Response - POE'S LAW: Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is utterly impossible to parody a Creationist in such a way that someone won't mistake for the genuine article.
- Aikin, Scott F. (January 23, 2009). "Poe's Law, Group Polarization, and the Epistemology of Online Religious Discourse". Social Science Research Network. SSRN 1332169.
- Chivers, Tom (Oct 23, 2009). "Internet rules and laws: the top 10, from Godwin to Poe". The Telegraph.: "Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humour, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won't mistake for the real thing."
- "Emily Post for Usenet". Newsgroup: net.announce. November 1, 1983. (Emily Post)
- "Bush's testing plan.". Newsgroup: talk.origins. February 1, 2001.