Adolf Hitler may be long dead, but Herr Führer is still perfectly relevant when it comes to online forum discussions. So much so, that there’s a probabilistic mathematical law dealing with the same.
It’s called Godwin’s law, and was promulgated by American attorney and author Mike Godwin in 1990. It states that, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1“
Godwin’s law originally referred specifically to Usenet newsgroup discussions. It is now applied to any threaded online discussion, such as Internet forums, chat rooms, and comment threads, as well as to speeches, articles, and other rhetoric where Hitler analogies occur as part of an invalidating argument.
Of course, if you look at it logically, this is basically a special case of Bernoulli’s trial. If you’re not familiar with Bernoulli’s trial, here’s the simpler explanation – given that there’s a greater than 0 probability of a Hitler comparison in every forum comment, if the number of comments keep increasing, someone eventually has to come up with a Hitler comparison.
That maybe so, and Godwin has himself stated that it was intentionally framed as a law of mathematics, although it’s intention was always more pedagogical. However, there is no doubting it’s significance even today. In 2012, “Godwin’s law” became an entry in the third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. Today, there is a tradition in many newsgroups and discussion forums that once a Hitler comparison is made, the thread is finished and whoever mentioned Hitler has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress. This principle itself is sometimes referred to as Godwin’s law. However, technically speaking, that is wrong.