“Godwin’s Law is one of the so-called laws of the internet. It states that the longer a forum thread goes, the more likely a comparison to Nazis or Hitler will appear. On most forums, mentioning Nazis in such a way means that the poster’s side is invalid, because they cannot come up with relevant arguments and must instead turn to name calling and hyperbole.
This is a “law” you will hear about just from existing on the internet long enough. Almost any forum or message board mentioned it in their “code of conduct” or similar document, especially around 5-10 years ago. At this point, it is just considered as a given of the internet.
As for where it came from, I have no real solid idea (though i’m sure a glance at Wikipedia could give me several leads…). My guess is that before it was called codified, it was more an informal rule on forums. No Idea who Godwin was, though i suppose it could be the administrator or moderator of one of the first forums to officially post the rule.”
This is the second item I came across in my folklore collection that related to an idea of “rules” for the internet (the first being my entry on the Wadsworth Constant). For a medium so vast with a user base so multifaceted, the medium is quickly developing a standardized set of rules and characteristics of user behavior. In a slightly less significant connection, this is also my second entry that just happens to deal with the internet and Hitler (The Hitler/Jesus Game), which could be a sign of a problematic leaning towards troubling figures, though I think that is something that would have to be researched further, to prevent bringing attention to a problem that does not actually exist.
As the internet becomes further integrated into everyday life, I predict more folklore will deal with the workings of the internet, as these entries are beginning to show. The world will become more connected online, making the digital just as important as the physical. My informant joked that his knowledge of folklore dealt with the digital so much because he was “a white nerd growing up in a family of white nerds”, but the elements of his upbringing will become more widespread as technology becomes cheaper and more accessible, bringing us into an age of digital folklore.
Concerning the Law itself, the observation it makes speaks to the nature of argument that often emerges as a debate continues and continues without any real end. As logical arguments lose their effectiveness, we often resort to personal attacks to win favor with those we try to impress (see: attack ads), and a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis is probably the worst parallel one can make to another. It’s a sign of desperation that many people will resort to, and as this Law shows, the Hitler insult is probably the easiest and most effective one to resort to.