Apr. 13th, 2008

mickyfinn: (Default)
There are many things people just don't seem to get on the internet, but the one I notice most often is a fundamental failure to understand Godwin's law.

I think a major cause of the problem is a fundamental misunderstanding of what sort of law it is. It is not a law in the legal sense, its a law in the scientific sense. It applied originally to usenet threads, but can generally be applied to any sort of message board or discussion forum where comments are structured in threads. And all it says, to use the exact wording, is "As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one." Meaning that there is a chance of a comparison of something under discussion to hitler or nazis in any usenet thread, and this chance increases with every post to the thread.

What Godwins law does not say is "If you mention Hitler, or Nazis, the thread is over and the other guy won". It doesn't even say "If you mention hitler or nazis, the thread is over and no one won". There is a social convention that it means the thread is now unfit for its original purpose, and a reasonable usenet tactician can manufacture a win by gracefully, and without comment, or with some sort of reasonable farewell, cease posting to the thread. Jumping up and down and going "You said Hitler, Godwin's law says I win" will usually take the thread off into a churning, messy discussion of Godwin's Law, and why this reference to nazis was significant and appropriate.

So, just in case you have been misusing and misunderstanding Godwin's law, now you know.
And knowing is half the battle.

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mickyfinn

October 2008

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