Poe's law is an internet adage which states that, without a clear indicator of the author's intent, parodies of extremism are indistinguishable from sincere expressions of extremism. Poe's Law implies that parody will often be mistaken for sincere belief, and sincere beliefs for parody.
"Poe's Law" was originally written by Nathan Poe in 2005, in a post on christianforums.com, an internet forum about Christianity. The post was written in the context of a debate about creationism, where a previous poster had remarked "Good thing you included the winky. Otherwise people might think you are serious". Poe then replied, "Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is uttrerly [sic] impossible to parody a Creationist in such a way that someone won't mistake for the genuine article.". The original statement of Poe's Law referred specifically to creationism, but it has since been generalized to apply to any kind of fundamentalism or extremism.
Poe's post was a restatement of advice often posted on internet forums, about the need to clearly mark sarcasm and parody (e.g., with a smiling emoticon) to avoid confusion. As early as 1983, Jerry Schwarz, in a post on Usenet, wrote:
Avoid sarcasm and facetious remarks.
Without the voice inflection and body language of personal communication these are easily misinterpreted. A sideways smile, :-), has become widely accepted on the net as an indication that "I'm only kidding". If you submit a satiric item without this symbol, no matter how obvious the satire is to you, do not be surprised if people take it seriously.
- Poe, Nathan (11 August 2005). "Big contradictions in the evolution theory". christianforums.com. Archived from the original on May 31, 2014. Retrieved August 20, 2011.
POE'S LAW: Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is utterly impossible to parody a Creationist in such a way that someone won't mistake for the genuine article.
- Aikin, Scott F. (January 23, 2009). "Poe's Law, Group Polarization, and the Epistemology of Online Religious Discourse". Social Science Research Network. SSRN 1332169.
- Chivers, Tom (Oct 23, 2009). "Internet rules and laws: the top 10, from Godwin to Poe". The Telegraph.: "Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humour, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won't mistake for the real thing."
- "Emily Post for Usenet". Newsgroup: net.announce. November 1, 1983. (Emily Post)