Godwin's law, short for Godwin's law (or rule) of Nazi analogies, is an Internet adage asserting that as an online discussion grows longer (regardless of topic or scope), the probability of a comparison to Nazis or Adolf Hitler approaches 1.
Promulgated by the American attorney and author Mike Godwin in 1990, Godwin's law originally referred specifically to Usenet newsgroup discussions. He stated that he introduced Godwin's law in 1990 as an experiment in memetics. Later it was applied to any threaded online discussion, such as Internet forums, chat rooms, and comment threads, as well as to speeches, articles, and other rhetoric where reductio ad Hitlerum occurs.
In 2012, Godwin's law became an entry in the third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. In 2021, Harvard researchers published an article showing the phenomenon does not occur with statistically meaningful frequency in Reddit discussions.
Generalization, corollaries, and usage
There are many corollaries to Godwin's law, some considered more canonical (by being adopted by Godwin himself) than others. For example, there is a tradition in many newsgroups and other Internet discussion forums that, when a Hitler comparison is made, the thread is finished and whoever made the comparison loses whatever debate is in progress. This principle is itself frequently referred to as Godwin's law.
Godwin's law itself can be applied mistakenly or abused as a distraction, diversion or even as censorship, when fallaciously miscasting an opponent's argument as hyperbole when the comparison made by the argument is appropriate. Godwin himself has also criticized the overapplication of the law, claiming that it does not articulate a fallacy, but rather is intended to reduce the frequency of inappropriate and hyperbolic comparisons. Godwin wrote that "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 December 2015, Godwin commented on comparisons to Nazism and fascism being made by several articles between Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, saying: "If you're thoughtful about it and show some real awareness of history, go ahead and refer to Hitler when you talk about Trump, or any other politician." In August 2017, Godwin made similar remarks on social media with respect to the two previous days' Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, endorsing and encouraging comparisons of its alt-right organizers to Nazis.
In June 2018, Godwin wrote an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times denying the need to update or amend the rule. He rejected the idea that whoever invokes Godwin's law has lost the argument, and argued that, applied appropriately, the rule "should function less as a conversation ender and more as a conversation starter."
- Association fallacy
- Goebbels Gap
- List of eponymous laws
- Nazi analogies
- Poe's law
- Straw man
- Think of the children
- Thought-terminating cliché
- Toothbrush moustache § Post–World War II
- Godwin, Mike (October 1994). "Meme, Counter-meme". Wired. Retrieved March 24, 2006.
- Godwin, Mike (January 12, 1995). "Godwin's law of Hitler Analogies (and Corollaries)". EFF.org. Electronic Frontier Foundation. pp. "Net Culture – Humor" archive section. Archived from the original on August 29, 2012. Retrieved June 19, 2012.
- Godwin, Mike (August 18, 1991). "Re: Nazis (was Re: Card's Article on Homosexuality". Newsgroup: rec.arts.sf-lovers. Usenet: 1991Aug18.email@example.com.
- Goldacre, Ben (September 16, 2010). "Pope aligns atheists with Nazis. Bizarre. Transcript here". bengoldacre – secondary blog. Archived from the original on March 25, 2013.
- Stanley, Timothy (March 6, 2014). "Hillary, Putin's no Hitler". Opinion. CNN. Retrieved March 6, 2014.
- "Godwin's law". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Retrieved February 27, 2013.
- Harrison, Stephen (January 24, 2022). "Has Godwin's Law, the Rule of Nazi Comparisons, Been Disproved?". Slate Magazine. Retrieved April 23, 2022.
- Fariello, Gabriele; Jemielniak, Dariusz; Sulkowski, Adam (December 7, 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. SAGE Publishing. doi:10.1177/14614448211062070. ISSN 1461-4448. S2CID 245035602.
- "Internet rules and laws: the top 10, from Godwin to Poe". The Daily Telegraph (London), October 23, 2009.
- Oliver, John (host) (August 13, 2017). "North Korea". Last Week Tonight. HBO. Archived from the original on August 14, 2017. "There honestly aren't that many instances in modern American politics where you can honestly think: that guy really should have mentioned the Nazis, but this is emphatically one of them. It's like the reversed Godwin's law—if you fail to mention Nazism, you lose the argument.". Retrieved November 7, 2017.
- David Weigel, "Hands Off Hitler! It's time to repeal Godwin's Law" Reason, July 14, 2005
- "I Seem To Be A Verb: 18 Years of Godwin's Law". Jewcy.com. April 30, 2008. Retrieved April 16, 2010.
- Godwin, Mike (December 14, 2015). "Sure, call Trump a Nazi. Just make sure you know what you're talking about". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on February 9, 2017.
- Gilbert, Alexandre (August 17, 2017). "Godwin's law & the Nazi Cosplay Hobbiysts". Times of Israel.
- Mandelbaum, Ryan. "Godwin of Godwin's Law: 'By All Means, Compare These Shitheads to the Nazis'". Gizmodo. Retrieved August 14, 2017.
- 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.
- Godwin, Mike. "You're not going to believe who this guy reminds me of". Archived from the original on March 16, 2022. Retrieved August 20, 2023 – via Twitter.
- Anderson, Nate (September 1, 2011). "No Nazi comparisons? Sounds like something Hitler would say!". Ars Technica. Retrieved September 1, 2011.
- Tim Skirvin (September 15, 1999). "How to post about Nazis and get away with it—the Godwin's law FAQ". Skirv's Wiki. Archived from the original on October 11, 1999.
- "I Seem to be a Verb" (Archived January 15, 2013, at the Wayback Machine); Mike Godwin's commentary on the 18th anniversary of Godwin's law
- "My Nazi Can Beat Up Your Nazi" by Michael Sietzman
- "Is it ever OK to call someone a Nazi?". BBC News. July 14, 2010.
- Fishman, Aleisa (September 1, 2011). "Voices on Antisemitism - Interview with Mike Godwin". U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Archived from the original on May 16, 2013.
- Interview with "Mike Godwin on Godwin's Law" by Dan Amira, New York magazine, March 8, 2013
- Wired 2.10; "Meme, Counter-Meme" by Mike Godwin