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Godwin's law

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American attorney and author Mike Godwin coined his eponymous law on Usenet in 1990

Godwin's law (or Godwin's rule of Hitler analogies)[1][2] is an Internet adage that asserts that "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving 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. 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.

Generalization, corollaries, usage[edit]

With respect to probability theory, Godwin's law becomes a special case of a Bernoulli trial.

Indeed, 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 once such a comparison is made, the thread is finished and whoever mentioned Adolf Hitler has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress.[7] This principle is itself frequently referred to as Godwin's law.[8]

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.[9][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]

History[edit]

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

Godwin's law does not claim to 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 on 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] On August 13, 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 2012, "Godwin's law" became an entry in the third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.[18]

See also[edit]

References[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)". EFF.org. Electronic Frontier Foundation. pp. "Net Culture – Humor" archive section. Retrieved June 19, 2012. 
  4. ^ Godwin, Mike (August 18, 1991). "Re: Nazis (was Re: Card's Article on Homosexuality". Newsgrouprec.arts.sf-lovers. Usenet: 1991Aug18.215029.19421@eff.org. 
  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. ^ "Internet rules and laws: the top 10, from Godwin to Poe". The Daily Telegraph (London), October 23, 2009.
  8. ^ Oliver, John (host) (13 August 2017). "North Korea". Last Week Tonight. "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.". HBO. Retrieved 7 November 2017. 
  9. ^ David Weigel, "Hands Off Hitler! It's time to repeal Godwin's Law" Reason magazine, July 14, 2005
  10. ^ Mitt Hitler and Double Standards: Godwin's Law Applies to Thee, But Not to Me, No Pasarán, May 28, 2012
  11. ^ Greenwald, Glenn (July 1, 2010) The odiousness of the distorted Godwin's Law, Salon.com
  12. ^ "I Seem To Be A Verb: 18 Years of Godwin's Law". Jewcy.com. April 30, 2008. Retrieved April 16, 2010. 
  13. ^ Godwin, Mike (14 December 2015). "Sure, call Trump a Nazi. Just make sure you know what you're talking about". The Washington Post. 
  14. ^ Gilbert, Alexandre (17 August 2017). "Godwin's law & the Nazi Cosplay Hobbiysts". Times of Israel. 
  15. ^ Godwin, Mike (14 August 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 14 August 2017. 
  16. ^ Godwin, Mike (13 August 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 14 August 2017. 
  17. ^ Mandelbaum, Ryan. "Godwin of Godwin's Law: 'By All Means, Compare These Shitheads to the Nazis'". Gizmodo. Retrieved 14 August 2017. 
  18. ^ "Godwin's law". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Retrieved February 27, 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

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