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Godwin’s Law is an internet adage that is derived from one of the earliest bits of Usenet wisdoms, which goes “if you mention Adolf Hitler or Nazis within a discussion thread, you’ve automatically ended whatever discussion you were taking part in.”
Mike Godwin coined his observation as a “natural law of Usenet” in 1990. For more information about Godwin’s Law, check out the original FAQ page. According to the online slang dictionary Jargon File:
While Godwin’s Law was originally conceived for the Usenet newsgroup discussions, the humorous rule remains just as applicable today in any threaded online discussion, such as message boards, chat rooms, comment threads and wiki talk pages. Since the dawn of online discussions, Godwin’s Law has been used as an indicator of whether a thread has gone on too long, who’s playing fair and who’s just slinging mud and who finally gets to “win” the discussion.
Relation to Internet Memes
In Mike Godwin’s 1994 Wired article, Meme, Counter-meme he explains how he ‘seeded’ the Law as a trivialization/counter-point 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.
- In 2007, Slashdot noted that Godwin’s Law affected an ongoing, highly public dispute between Linux author Linus Torvalds and the GNOME project.
- A May 2007 issue of Randall Munroe’s webcomic xkcd anachronistically portrays Allied officers trying to discuss Axis military tactics, but being interrupted by Godwin’s Law.
- Similarly, a November 2007 issue of Jeph Jacques’s webcomic Questionable Content, entitled “Godwin Wars”, referenced (and contrasted) Godwin’s law and the reductio ad Hitlerum.
- In October 2007 issue, Wired published a “Geekipedia” piece that includes an entry for “Godwin’s law” among “people, place, ideas, and trends you need to know now”.
- By 2007, The Economist had declared that “a good rule in most discussions is that the first person to call the other a Nazi automatically loses the argument.”