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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 which 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 Hitler or his deeds.

Promulgated by 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.

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

Corollaries and usage

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 Hitler has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress.[8] This principle is itself frequently referred to as Godwin's law.[citation needed]

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 American lawyer, journalist and author Glenn Greenwald.[11]


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, 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", Godwin has written.[12] In December 2015, Godwin commented on the Nazi and fascist comparisons being made by several articles on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, saying that "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]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 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. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Godwin, Mike (October 1994). "Meme, Counter-meme". Wired. Retrieved March 24, 2006. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Godwin, Mike (January 12, 1995). "Godwin's law of Hitler Analogies (and Corollaries)". 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: 
  5. Ben Goldacre (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. 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,
  12. "I Seem To Be A Verb: 18 Years of Godwin's Law". 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.". Washington Post. 

Further reading

External links