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, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler becomes more likely. 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 usually dampens discussion.
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. 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 where reductio ad Hitlerum occurs.
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. Mike Godwin himself has also criticized the overapplication of Godwin's law, claiming it does not articulate a fallacy; but rather intended to reduce the frequency of inappropriate and 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."
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." 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 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, and rejected the idea that whoever invokes Godwin's Law has lost the argument, and argues that appropriate application of the rule "should function less as a conversation ender and more as a conversation starter."
- Association fallacy
- List of eponymous laws
- Nazi analogies
- Reductio ad Hitlerum
- Straw man
- Think of the children
- Thought-terminating cliché
- 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.
- 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.
- "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. "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 magazine, 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Anderson, Nate (September 1, 2011). "No Nazi comparisons? Sounds like something Hitler would say!". Ars Technica. Retrieved September 1, 2011.
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- 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"; 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