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Godwin's law

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American attorney and author Mike Godwin in the Voice of America headquarters, 2017

Godwin's law (or Godwin's rule of Hitler analogies)[1][2] is an Internet adage asserting that "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1";[2][3] that is, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Adolf Hitler or his deeds, the point at which effectively the discussion or thread often ends. Promulgated by the American attorney and author Mike Godwin in 1990,[2] Godwin's law originally referred specifically to Usenet newsgroup discussions.[4] It is now applied to any threaded online discussion, such as Internet forums, chat rooms, and comment threads, as well as to speeches, articles, and other rhetoric[5][6] where reductio ad Hitlerum occurs.

Godwin has stated that he introduced Godwin's law in 1990 as an experiment in memetics.[2]

In 2012, "Godwin's law" became an entry in the third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.[7]

Generalization, corollaries, usage[edit]

There are many corollaries to Godwin's law, some considered more canonical (by being adopted by Godwin himself)[3] than others.[1] 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.[8] This principle is itself frequently referred to as Godwin's law.[9]

Godwin's law itself can be abused as a distraction, diversion or even as censorship, fallaciously miscasting an opponent's argument as hyperbole when the comparisons made by the argument are actually appropriate.[10] Similar criticisms of the "law" (or "at least the distorted version which purports to prohibit all comparisons to German crimes") have been made by the American lawyer, journalist, and author Glenn Greenwald.[11]

Mike Godwin himself has also criticized the overapplication of Godwin's law, claiming it does not articulate a fallacy; it is instead framed as a memetic tool to reduce the incidence of inappropriate, hyperbolic comparisons. "Although deliberately framed as if it were a law of nature or of mathematics," Godwin wrote, "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."[12]

In December 2015, Godwin commented on the Nazi and fascist comparisons being made by several articles about 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."[13] In August 2017, Godwin made similar remarks on social networking websites Facebook and Twitter with respect to the two previous days' Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, endorsing and encouraging efforts to compare its alt-right organizers to Nazis.[14][15][16][17]

In October 2018, Godwin said on Twitter that it is acceptable to call Brazilian politician (later became President) Jair Bolsonaro a "Nazi".[18][19] In June 2019, after Chris Hayes invoked Godwin's Law in a discussion of whether it was appropriate to call the United States's refugee detention centers "concentration camps," Godwin explicitly stated his belief that the term "concentration camps" was appropriate.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Tim Skirvin (September 15, 1999). "How to post about Hitler and get away with it—the Godwin's law FAQ". Skirv's Wiki. Archived from the original on October 11, 1999.
  2. ^ a b c d Godwin, Mike (October 1994). "Meme, Counter-meme". Wired. Retrieved March 24, 2006.
  3. ^ a b Godwin, Mike (January 12, 1995). "Godwin's law of Hitler Analogies (and Corollaries)". Electronic Frontier Foundation. pp. "Net Culture – Humor" archive section. Archived from the original on August 29, 2012. Retrieved June 19, 2012.
  4. ^ Godwin, Mike (August 18, 1991). "Re: Nazis (was Re: Card's Article on Homosexuality". Newsgrouprec.arts.sf-lovers. Usenet:
  5. ^ Goldacre, Ben (September 16, 2010). "Pope aligns atheists with Nazis. Bizarre. Transcript here". bengoldacre – secondary blog. Archived from the original on March 25, 2013.
  6. ^ Stanley, Timothy (March 6, 2014). "Hillary, Putin's no Hitler". Opinion. CNN. Retrieved March 6, 2014.
  7. ^ "Godwin's law". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Retrieved February 27, 2013.
  8. ^ "Internet rules and laws: the top 10, from Godwin to Poe". The Daily Telegraph (London), October 23, 2009.
  9. ^ Oliver, John (host) (August 13, 2017). "North Korea". Last Week Tonight. HBO. "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.
  10. ^ David Weigel, "Hands Off Hitler! It's time to repeal Godwin's Law" Reason magazine, July 14, 2005
  11. ^ Greenwald, Glenn (July 1, 2010) The odiousness of the distorted Godwin's Law,
  12. ^ "I Seem To Be A Verb: 18 Years of Godwin's Law". April 30, 2008. Retrieved April 16, 2010.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Gilbert, Alexandre (August 17, 2017). "Godwin's law & the Nazi Cosplay Hobbiysts". Times of Israel.
  15. ^ Godwin, Mike (August 14, 2017). "Mike Godwin on Facebook: "By all means, compare these shitheads to the Nazis. Again and again. I'm with you."". Facebook. Archived from the original on August 14, 2017.
  16. ^ Godwin, Mike (August 13, 2017). "Mike Godwin on Twitter: "By all means, compare these shitheads to Nazis. Again and again. I'm with you."". Twitter. Archived from the original on August 14, 2017.
  17. ^ Mandelbaum, Ryan. "Godwin of Godwin's Law: 'By All Means, Compare These Shitheads to the Nazis'". Gizmodo. Retrieved August 14, 2017.
  18. ^ "Criador da Lei de Godwin diz que é ok chamar Bolsonaro de nazista". Folha de S.Paulo (in Portuguese). October 17, 2018. Retrieved November 11, 2018.
  19. ^ "Mike Godwin #EleNão on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved November 11, 2018.
  20. ^ Mike Godwin on Twitter: "Chris, I think they're concentration camps. Keep in mind that one of their functions *by design* is to punish those individuals and families who are detained. So even the 'charged' term is appropriate."

Further reading[edit]

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