Godwin’s Law Explained

godwin law

Introduction: What is Godwin’s Law?

Godwin’s law, also known as Godwin’s rule of Hitler Analogies, puts forth the notion that “As an online discussion continues, the probability of a reference or comparison to Hitler or Nazis approaches or becomes stronger”. This simply implies that sooner or later, Hitler will come up in every online argument.

It claims that it is an inevitable consequence of free speech. Typically, the comment likens someone to Hitler or calls that person a Nazi, and the individual described in that way is often a participant in the discussion. The law is thought to apply to conversations about any conceivable topic. The law was created by Mike Godwin, an American lawyer and author in the 1990s when he was trying to address the widespread phenomenon of glibly comparing someone else to Hitler or Nazis to win an online argument.

The law was initially in reference to Usenet Newsgroup discussions but it is now widely considered applicable to any online channel and particularly to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, where large groups of loosely-connected individuals frequently engage in extended and contentious arguments about all sorts of things. Today, the 1990 adage known as Godwin’s Law seems more appropriate than ever, as social media has turned civil discourse into a never-ending series of flame wars.

Purpose of creating the law:

Godwin’s purpose in creating the law was to make people more thoughtful in online communications. A Corollary to Godwin’s law states that once Hitler is mentioned, that discussion is ended. It does not matter what the topic is—politics, psychology, chemistry, economics, etiquette, flower arranging, whatever—a comparison to Hitler immediately loses the argument.

The rationale for this appears that Hitler was a uniquely evil person so that any comparison between him and anyone else is unspeakably tasteless. The implication is that the level of discourse has devolved to the degree that further communication is pointless. According to Usenet tradition, whoever mentioned Hitler is deemed to have lost the argument.

Are there any amendments made to the law?

Godwin has suggested another law which has nothing to do with social media and online arguments. It is about how governments value their ability to do surveillance. However, let us save that for another video!

Critique for the Law

Critiques believe that those who escalate a debate into Adolf Hitler or Nazi comparisons may be thinking lazily, not adding clarity or wisdom, and contributing to the decay of an argument over time. Other think that Nazi comparison is baseless, needlessly inflammatory or hyperbolic. But Godwin’s Law was never meant to block us from challenging the institutionalization of cruelty or the callousness of officials who claim to be just following the law.

It definitely was not meant to shield our leaders from being slammed for the current fashion of pitching falsehoods as fact. Godwin’s Law is merely an observational rule and is not meant to comment on conversations that happen to discuss Nazism.

Meme-Counter meme

An interesting fact is that Goodwin is the first person to use the word meme to refer to viral online content. In response to the article titled ‘meme-counter meme’, Godwin explained how he “seeded” the Law as a trivialization and a counterpoint to the gratuitous Nazi comparisons found on Usenet groups. Know your meme researchers have found this to be one of the first uses of “meme” to refer to viral media & the general spread of ideas via Internet communications.

Modern Relevance

Goodwin’s law still serves us as a tool to recognize specious comparisons to Nazism — but also, by contrast, to recognize comparisons that are not. Sometimes the comparisons can spot the earliest symptoms of horrific “attitudes, actions and language” well before our society falls prey to the full-blown disease.