Godwin's Law (also Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies) is an adage in Internet culture that was originated by Mike Godwin in 1990. The law states that:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

There is a tradition in many Usenet newsgroups that once such a comparison is made in a thread the thread is over, and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress. Godwin's Law thus practically guarantees the existence of an upper bound on thread length in those groups. Many people understand Godwin's Law to mean this, although (as is clear from the statement of the law above) this is not the original formulation.

Nevertheless, there is also a widely-recognized codicil that any intentional invocation of Godwin's Law for its thread-ending effects will be unsuccessful.

Godwin's Law is named after Mike Godwin, who was legal counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation in the early 1990s, when the law was first popularized. Richard Sexton maintains that the law is a formalization of his October 16, 1989 post

You can tell when a USENET discussion is getting old when one of the participents [sic] drags out Hitler and the Nazis.

Strictly speaking, however, this is not so, since the actual text of Godwin's Law does not state that such a reference or comparison makes a discussion "old," or, for that matter, that such a reference or comparison means that a discussion is over.

Finding the meme of Nazi comparisons on Usenet illogical and offensive, Godwin established the law as a counter-meme. The law's memetic function is not to end discussions (or even to classify them as "old"), but to make participants in a discussion more aware of whether a comparison to Nazis or Hitler is appropriate, or is simply a rhetorical overreach.

Many people have extended Godwin's Law to imply that the invoking of the Nazis as a debating tactic (in any argument not directly related to World War II or the Holocaust) automatically loses the argument, simply because these events were so horrible that any comparison to any event less serious than genocide or extinction is invalid and in poor taste.

Various additions and addenda to Godwin's Law have been proposed by Internet users, though the original reference to Nazis remains the most popular. Addenda to the law include:

Gordon's Restatement of Newman's Corollary to Godwin's Law:
Libertarianism (pro, con, and internal faction fights) is the primordial net.news discussion topic. Any time the debate shifts somewhere else, it must eventually return to this fuel source.
Morgan's Corollary to Godwin's Law:
As soon as such a comparison occurs, someone will start a Nazi-discussion thread on alt.censorship.
Sircar's Corollary:
If the Usenet discussion touches on homosexuality or Heinlein, Nazis or Hitler are mentioned within three days.
Case's Corollary:
If the subject is Heinlein or homosexuality, the probability of a Hitler/Nazi comparison being made becomes equal to one.
Van der Leun's Corollary:
As global connectivity improves, the probability of actual Nazis being on the Net approaches one.
Miller's Paradox:
As a network evolves, the number of Nazi comparisons not forestalled by citation to Godwin's Law converges to zero.

See also

External links and references