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An attendee at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear wearing a T-shirt implicitly referencing Godwin's Law: "I disagree with you but I'm pretty sure you're not Hitler."

Godwin's law, short for Godwin's law (or rule) of Nazi analogies,[1] is an Internet adage asserting: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1."[2]

History[edit]

Promulgated by the American attorney and author Mike Godwin in 1990,[1] Godwin's law originally referred specifically to Usenet newsgroup discussions.[3] He stated that he introduced Godwin's law in 1990 as an experiment in memetics,[1] specifically to address the ubiquity of such comparisons which he believes regrettably trivialize the Holocaust.[4][5] Later, it was applied to any threaded online discussion, such as Internet forums, chat rooms, and social-media comment threads, as well as to speeches, articles, and other rhetoric[6][7] where reductio ad Hitlerum occurs.

In 2012, Godwin's law became an entry in the third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.[8]

Generalization, corollaries, and usage[edit]

Godwin's law can be applied mistakenly or abused as a distraction, a diversion, or even censorship, when miscasting an opponent's argument as hyperbole even when the comparison made by the argument is appropriate.[9] Godwin has criticized the over-application of the adage, claiming that it does not articulate a fallacy, but rather is intended to reduce the frequency of inappropriate and hyperbolic comparisons:[10]

Although deliberately framed as if it were a law of nature or of mathematics, its purpose has always been rhetorical and pedagogical: I wanted folks who glibly compared someone else to Hitler to think a bit harder about the Holocaust.

In 2021, Harvard researchers published an article showing that the Nazi-comparison phenomenon does not occur with statistically meaningful frequency in Reddit discussions.[11][12]

Godwin's law has many corollaries, some considered more canonical (by being adopted by Godwin himself)[2] than others. For example, many newsgroups and other Internet discussion forums have a tradition that, when a Nazi or Hitler comparison is made, the thread is finished and whoever made the comparison loses whatever debate is in progress.[13] This idea is itself sometimes mistakenly referred to as Godwin's law.[14]

Godwin rejects the idea that whoever invokes Godwin's law has lost the argument, and suggests that, applied appropriately, the rule "should function less as a conversation ender and more as a conversation starter."[15] In an interview with Time Magazine, Godwin said that making comparisons to Hitler would actually be appropriate under the right circumstances:[16]

I urge people to develop enough perspective to do it thoughtfully. If you think the comparison is valid, and you've given it some thought, do it. All I ask you to do is think about the human beings capable of acting very badly. We have to keep the magnitude of those events in mind, and not be glib. Our society needs to be more humane, more civilized and to grow up.

In August 2017, while commenting on the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Godwin himself endorsed and encouraged social-media users to compare its "alt-right" participants to Nazis.[17][18]

Godwin has denied the need to update or amend the rule. in June 2018, he wrote, in an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times: "It still serves us as a tool to recognize specious comparisons to Nazism – but also, by contrast, to recognize comparisons that aren't."[15]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Godwin, Mike (October 1, 1994). "Meme, Counter-meme". Wired. Vol. 2, no. 10. Retrieved March 24, 2006.
  2. ^ a b Godwin, Mike (January 12, 1995). "Godwin's law of Hitler Analogies (and Corollaries)". "Net Culture – Humor" archive section. w2.EFF.org. Electronic Frontier Foundation. Archived from the original on August 29, 2012. Retrieved June 19, 2012.
  3. ^ Godwin, Mike (August 18, 1991). "Re: Nazis (was Re: Card's Article on Homosexuality". Newsgrouprec.arts.sf-lovers. Usenet: 1991Aug18.215029.19421@eff.org.
  4. ^ McFarlane, Andrew (July 14, 2010). "Is it ever OK to call someone a Nazi?". BBC News Magazine. Retrieved August 4, 2010.
  5. ^ Fishman, Aleisa; Godwin, Mike (September 1, 2011). "Interview with Mike Godwin". Voices on Antisemitism (Podcast). United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Archived from the original on May 20, 2014.
  6. ^ Goldacre, Ben (September 16, 2010). "Pope aligns atheists with Nazis. Bizarre. Transcript here". bengoldacre – secondary blog. Archived from the original on March 25, 2013.
  7. ^ Stanley, Timothy (March 6, 2014). "Hillary, Putin's no Hitler". "Opinion" department. CNN. Retrieved March 6, 2014.
  8. ^ "Godwin's law". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Retrieved February 27, 2013.
  9. ^ Weigel, David (July 14, 2005). "Hands Off Hitler! It's time to repeal Godwin's Law". Reason. Archived from the original on July 15, 2009.
  10. ^ "I Seem to Be a Verb: 18 Years of Godwin's Law". Jewcy.com. April 30, 2008. Archived from the original on January 15, 2013. Retrieved April 16, 2010.
  11. ^ Harrison, Stephen (January 24, 2022). "Has Godwin's Law, the Rule of Nazi Comparisons, Been Disproved?". Slate. Retrieved April 23, 2022.
  12. ^ Fariello, Gabriele; Jemielniak, Dariusz; Sulkowski, Adam (December 12, 2021). "Does Godwin's law (rule of Nazi analogies) apply in observable reality? An empirical study of selected words in 199 million Reddit posts". New Media & Society. 26. Sage Publishing: 389–404. doi:10.1177/14614448211062070. ISSN 1461-4448. S2CID 245035602.
  13. ^ Chivers, Tom (October 23, 2009). "Internet rules and laws: The top 10, from Godwin to Poe". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  14. ^ Datta, N. (June 20, 2017). "Godwin's Law – How Adolf Hitler Is Mathematically Connected To Internet Forum Discussions". Trove 42. Retrieved February 13, 2024.
  15. ^ a b Godwin, Mike (June 24, 2018). "Op-Ed: Do we need to update Godwin's Law about the probability of comparison to Nazis?". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 24, 2020.
  16. ^ Hoffman, Ashley (June 29, 2017). "Should You Call Someone Hitler? Here's What the Man Behind Godwin's Law Thinks". Time. Retrieved February 13, 2024.
  17. ^ Gilbert, Alexandre (August 17, 2017). "Godwin's Law & the Nazi Cosplay Hobbiysts". The Times of Israel.
  18. ^ Mandelbaum, Ryan F. (August 13, 2017). "Godwin of Godwin's Law: 'By All Means, Compare These Shitheads to the Nazis'". Gizmodo. Retrieved December 26, 2023.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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