Myth Information: Godwin’s Law

Violating Godwins Law is one of the worst crimes on the internet, right after posting a video from Upworthy. Before Youtube was taken over by Google and shaken up to make for a less 4Chan-y place it was not uncommon to see arguments descend into comparisons to Nazis and how person A had totally shagged person Bs mum. Though Godwins Law still comes into play in discussions.

There is however a very common misconception about Godwins Law, but before that, for the three people who do not know, this is Godwins Law:

“As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1”

Coined by Mike Godwin on the old Usenet bulletin boards, it quickly became a oft quoted part of internet discussion. Because the Nazis, and Hitler, are the most famous bad guys from history then comparing someone or something to them acts to highlight just how severe that incident is. Sometimes a comparison to the Nazis isn’t without merit- if discussing genocidal actions then a comparison is fair. But it gets trotted out for far less violent incidents- Obama wants to take your guns? Why, that’s a real Hitlery thing to do. Pointing out someone’s poor use of grammar? GRAMMAR NAZI! It is a cheap shot, and so Godwin’s Law was invented and now is used to end discussion. The current thinking is that if someone uses a Nazi comparison then that ends the debate. Now obviously it might be difficult to get a derailed discussion back on track after you called your waiter Hitler because he overcharged you 50p, but this is a misunderstanding of the law.

The law is simply an observation, not a direction for how to continue a debate. The discussion does not end because someone demonstrated Godwin’s Law. You may not want to carry on the discussion, but that’s your own choice and nothing to do with Godwin. I think it is time for a Godwin’s Law Law, so here is my amended one:

“As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1. A discussion comes to an end once a person uses Godwin’s Law as an argument against a violator of Godwin’s Law”

Of course, this risks leading into Godwin’s Law Law Law and then things get complicated.

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