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How to post about Nazis and get away with it - the Godwin's Law FAQ

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Tim Skirvin

Nov 30, 2021, 7:04:04 PM11/30/21
Archive-name: usenet/legends/godwin
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Last-Modified: October 7, 2003
Version: 1.15
Maintainer: (Tim Skirvin)

Godwin's Law FAQ
"How to post about Nazis and get away with it"

One of the most famous pieces of Usenet trivia out there is "if you mention
Hitler or Nazis in a post, you've automatically ended whatever discussion
you were taking part in". Known as Godwin's Law, this rule of Usenet has a
long and sordid history on the network - and is absolutely wrong. This FAQ
is an attempt to set straight as much of the history and meaning of Godwin's
Law as possible, and hopefully encourage users to invoke it a bit more
sparingly. Of course, knowing Usenet, it won't do an ounce of good...

[Standard Disclaimers: this document assumes you have some basic knowledge
of Usenet; if you don't, go check out news.announce.newusers for a while to
gain said knowledge. Misuse of the information contained within this FAQ
is not the responsibility of the author (though he's pretty confused exactly
how you could misuse this information). Copyright 1999-2002, Tim Skirvin,
all rights reserved, <FISH><, fnord, furrfu.]

I. The Basics
1. What is Godwin's Law?

Godwin's Law is a natural law of Usenet named after Mike Godwin
( concerning Usenet "discussions". It reads, according to
the Jargon File:

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

2. What does it mean?

It pretty much means exactly what it says - as a Usenet thread
goes on, the chances of somebody or something being compared to a Nazi
approach one.

3. Yes, but what does it *mean*?

Aah, now *there's* the real question.

In case your head has been buried in the sand for the last sixty
years or so, the Nazis were a German political party led by Adolf Hitler
that slaughtered upwards of ten million people that didn't meet their
standards of "ethnic purity" and set off to conquer Europe and the world
in World War II. They are generally considered the most evil group of
people to live in modern times, and to compare something or someone to
them is usually considered the gravest insult imaginable.

As a Usenet discussion gets longer it tends to get more heated; as
more heat enters the discussion, tensions get higher and people start to
insult each other over anything they can think of. Godwin's Law merely
notes that, eventually, those tensions eventually cause someone to find
the worst insults that come to mind - which will almost always include a
Nazi comparison.

4. That still doesn't answer my question. What does it *MEAN*?

The Law is generally used on Usenet 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. It has, over time,
become the closest thing to an impartial moderator that Usenet can get.

So, what this means in practical terms:

o If someone brings up Nazis in general conversation when it
wasn't necessary or germane without it necessarily being an
insult, it's probably about time for the thread to end.
o If someone brings up Nazis in general conversation when it
was vaguely related but is basically being used as an insult,
the speaker can be considered to be flaming and not debating.
o If someone brings up Nazis in any conversation that has been
going on too long for one of the parties, it can be used as
a fair excuse to end the thread and declare victory for the
other side.


Fine, fine - it means that somebody's eventually going to say
something about the Nazis in any thread that lasts very long. When it
happens, the thread is going to start either degenerating into a long
flamewar over Nazi Germany or about Godwin's Law. Either way, the thread
is effectively over, and you can safely killfile the thread and move on.

II. What does it mean?
1. Didn't we already spend the last section talking about this?

Well, yeah, but people don't seem to get the point...

2. What happens if we're actually talking about Nazis?

Then you've already invoked Godwin's Law, and the chances are that
your thread isn't going to last all that much longer as a sane discussion.
Them's the breaks.

That isn't to say, of course, that you can't talk about Nazis and
such on Usenet - this *is* Usenet, after all, where virtually every
conversation that goes on is fairly ludicrous in the first place. It's
just going to take you a lot more effort to find real information out of
there and to avoid getting yourself off on side-threads - which you'll
eventually do regardless, but you can try to put it off.

This also applies if a thread mutates into an actual discussion of
Nazis, of course.

3. What about arguing with Neo-Nazis?

Arguing with Neo-Nazis is probably the quickest path to getting
Nazi invocations, because, well, they're actually accurate. Still, trying
to invoke Godwin's Law near a Neo-Nazi isn't really a good idea because
it's not terribly original and they'll probably get off on it anyway.
Just ignore them and occasionally publish a FAQ detailing what actually
happened during the Holocaust and such; arguing probably isn't going to
help you.

4. How can I use Godwin's Law to my advantage?

In the proper kind of flamewar, Godwin's Law can be used as a
gambit - how can you force your opponent to invoke the Law? Actually
teaching these skills is tough, of course, and is best done through
experience. Experience with chess and alt.flame are recommended.

5. What should I do if somebody else invokes Godwin's Law?

The obvious response is to call them on it, say "thread's over",
and declare victory. This is also one of the stupidest possible responses,
because it involves believing far too much in the power of a few rules that
don't say exactly what you wish they said anyway. The proper response to
an invocation is probably to simply followup with a message saying "Oh.
I'm a Nazi? Sure. Bye" and leave, and in most cases even that much of a
post is unnecessary.

6. "Hitler!" Ha! The thread is over!

Nope, doesn't work that way. Not only is it wrong to say that a
thread is over when Godwin's Law is invoked anyway (Usenet threads
virtually always outlive their usefulness), but long ago a corollary to
the Law was proposed and accepted by Taki "Quirk" Kogama (

Quirk's Exception: Intentional invocation of this so-called
"Nazi Clause" is ineffectual.

Sorry, folks. Nice try, though.

7. Does Godwin's Law apply in the real world?

Actually, yeah, but usually discussions in Real Life end by
somebody wandering off in disgust before it can be invoked.

8. Are there any topics that lead directly to Godwin Invocations?

Well, yeah. Of course. Case's Corollary to the Law states "if
the subject is Heinlein or homosexuality, the probability of a Hitler/Nazi
comparison being made becomes equal to one" - but that's just an old list.
Abortion and gun control debates always lead to Nazi comparisons; talk
with a Libertarian for more than a few hours and he'll almost certainly
bring up Nazis; book-burning is pretty much considered a sub-topic of
Nazism at this point. Hell, talk about anything politically related and
you'll eventually get there.

If you're really bored, a fun game to play is Six Degrees of Godwin.
Take a topic - any topic - and see how quickly you can relate it to Nazis
using legitimate topic drift methods. For example: a discussion about
computers will eventually lead to discussions of keyboards and which are
best, followed by a lot of complaining about the Windows key on 104-key
keyboards, leading to complaints about Microsoft, forcing the standard
MS-vs-government flamewar that I'm sure you're all aware of, leading to
attacks on Microsoft's "fascist" tactics by one side or another, which
will force the other side to start talking about the differences between
fascism, capitalism, and, of course, Nazism! The fun never stops!

Appendix A: The Many Forms of Godwin's Law

"You can tell when a USENET discussion is getting old when one of the
participants drags out Hitler and the Nazis."
- Richard Sexton ( stating what would later
be known as Godwin's Law, Message-ID <21...@gryphon.COM>, 16 Oct 1989

"Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies: As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the
probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one."
- Mike Godwin, first article about the topic in the Google archives,
Message-ID <>, 18 Aug 1991

:Godwin's Law: /prov./ [Usenet] "As a Usenet discussion grows
longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler
approaches one." There is a tradition in many groups that, once
this occurs, that 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.
- The Jargon File (

Hitler, Nazis, nazis, and net.cops:
Warning: now that this FAQ has mentioned Hitler and Nazis, UseNet Rule #4
(also known as Godwin's Rule, after Mike Godwin of the EFF, sci.crypt, and, a sometime foe of David Sternlight (q.v.) [even though it
was apparently in use, by Richard Sexton {q.v.} among others, before Mike's
1988 (?) net.advent; the "Godwin's" part seems to stem from "Rich Rosen's
Rules of Net.Debate, which I don't have a copy of]) says it will be coming to
an irrelevant and off-topic end soon. Just as there will always be newbies
("It's *always* September, *somewhere* on the net" - response to a 1993 wave
of postings on a.f.u), there will always be people who see the net
and are repulsed because there's stuff there they don't want to see - so they
set out to make sure noone else can, either. They invariably fail, because
there are no net.cops to enforce any such rules on UseNet; in the course of
the heated flamewar that usually follows, things escalate until either Hitler
or Nazis (or both) put in an appearance, at which point the thread has
officially lost all relevance. People scream at each other a bit more, then
give up and go home. Bleah. "Keep your brains up top; don't be a net.cop."
This has mutated, in true UseNet fashion, to encompass *any* continuing
thread; if you mention Hitler or Nazis out of the blue, the thread is sure to
die irrelevantly soon (and, incidentally, you've lost the argument, whatever
it was)... and every continuing thread on UseNet *must* contain such a
reference sooner or later. Invoking Rule #4 deliberately in hopes of ending
a thread, however, is doomed to failure (Quirk's Exception)...

UseNet Rules #n:
No firm info at the present time is available on just what the other UseNet
Rules #n are. However, at a guess, they include:
Rule #nonumber: There are no hard-and-fast Rules on UseNet, only Guidelines,
which are more or less strictly enforced (and differ) from group to group;
this is why it's generally wise to read any group for a bit before ever
posting to it.
Rule #0: *There* *is* *no* *C*b*l*. There *is*, however, a net-wide
conspiracy designed solely to lead Dave Hayes (q.v.) to believe that there
is a C*b*l.
Corollary: *There* *are* *no* *pods*.
Rule #9: It's *always* September, *somewhere* on the Net.
Dave Fischer's Extension: 1993 was The Year September Never Ended [so far,
there doesn't seem to be much evidence he's wrong...]
Rule #17: Go not to UseNet for counsel, for they will say both `No' and
`Yes' and `Try another newsgroup'.
Rule #2 (John Gilmore): "The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes
around it."
Rule #108 (from the soc.motss FAQ): "What will happen to me if I read
soc.motss?" "In general, nothing. (You may be informed or infuriated, of
course; but that's a standard Usenet hazard.)"
Rule #666: Old alt groups never die. They don't fade away nicely, either.
Rule #7-B: There is no topic so thoroughly covered that noone will ever
bring it up again.
Rule #90120: Applying your standards to someone else's post *will* result
in a flamewar.
Rule #1: Spellling and grammer counts. So do grace, wit, and a sense of
humor (the latter two are different), as well as a willingness to meet
odd people, but these are lesser considerations.
Rule #x^2: FAQs are asked frequently. Get used to them.
Rule #29: no rational discourse can happen in a thread cross-posted to
more than two newsgroups.
rule #6 (Eddie Saxe): don't post to misc.test unless you understand the
Rule #547 (Arne Adolfsen): When people know they're wrong they resort to ad
Rule #37 (Faisal Nameer Jawdat): Read the thread from the beginning, or else.
Rule #5 (Reimer's Reason): Nobody ever ignores what they should ignore on
Rule $19.99 (Brad `Squid' Shapcott): The Internet *isn't* *free*. It just has
an economy that makes no sense to capitalism.
Rule #3 ("Why 3?" "Because we felt like it"): For every opinion there is at
least one equally loud and opposing opinion; sometimes stated as:
Rule #27 (Gary Lewandowski): "In cyberspace, *everyone* can hear you scream."
And for completeness' sake:

Rule #4: (Godwin's Rule) Any off-topic mention of Hitler or Nazis will cause
the thread it is mentioned in to an irrelevant and off-topic end very soon;
every thread on UseNet has a constantly-increasing probability to contain
such a mention.
Quirk's Exception: Intentional invocation of this so-called "Nazi Clause" is
Case's Corollary: If the subject is Heinlein or homosexuality, the
probability of a Hitler/Nazi comparison being made becomes equal to one.
- net.legends FAQ (

Appendix B: Addendums, Commentary, and Miscellaneous

1. Bentsen's Defense

For some, there is another way around Godwin's Law:

"Not this time. I know Mike Godwin. Mike Godwin is a friend of mine.
Senator, you're no Mike Godwin."

This, of course, only applies to friends of Mike Godwin. The
originator of this rule, Earl Cooley III (, is one of those
people. If you have to ask, you don't apply. I don't apply, so don't
feel bad.

Note that this was named after Senator Lloyd Bentsen's "You're
no Jack Kennedy" line from the 1988 vice-presidential debates. And the
original usage can be found in <>:

2. Godwin's Commentary

Godwin actually wrote a short article for Wired Magazine on the
Law back in 1994:

The article is actually more about the power and danger of memes
(thought-viruses) than about Godwin's Law itself, but it's worthwhile
reading for anybody who actually got this far into the FAQ.

3. Author's Note on the Holocaust

Over the years, I have received several emails regarding this FAQ
regarding the Holocaust itself, either disputing the holocaust or the
numbers listed in this FAQ. I'd just like to make it clear that I don't
have any particular desire to debate these points; this FAQ is meant to
point out and explain a quirk of human nature, not to codify the history
of World War II.

4. Additional Corollaries

There have been many additional corollaries and otherwise related
rules created since the net.legends FAQ codified them, and/or missed in
that FAQ. Those that have been brought to the author's attention:

Stead's Law (named for Lew Stead of alt.pagan fame):
Any discussion between more than 2 Pagans will eventually come around
to Christianity.
- Reported by Donal Brewich <>
- More information regarding its history would be appreciated

Copyright 1999-2003, Tim Skirvin
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