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Why internet comment threads always end up referring to Nazis: Godwin's Law explained

Martyn Casserly | Feb. 4, 2014
Internet comment threads inevitably end up with a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler. There's even a 'law' about this probability: Godwin's Law.

The great scientist Stephen Hawking once said that to achieve great things for mankind we should all keep talking. The fact that he was under the employ of BT at the time, who no doubt wrote the script and weren't interested in whether you were planning to overthrow governments or cure world hunger as long as you stayed on the phone for a few hours every day, diminishes his message in no way at all. Of course if he'd spent any time on the comments threads of most websites he may have given up on humanity and focussed more on building a black-hole-powered teleportation device to get himself out of this manner-less wasteland.

In normal, civilised society the goal of a discussion is the exchange of ideas and opinions by mutually respectful individuals in search of a greater truth. This can be aided by comfortable chairs, a good supply of tea and a fine, warm pipe. Monocles are optional.

An example of the gentleman's exchange is as follows:

Chap 1: I think that was a jolly fine game of football last night.Chap 2: Indeed. Gerrard did well in the deep lying role.Chap 1: Yes, that was surprising. He really is an adaptable fellow. Although his lack of mobility might be a hindrance against a more robust midfield.Chap 2: I can see that. Excellent point. Can I borrow your lighter, my pipe seems to have gone out.

Take this to the internet and it becomes an entirely different affair.

Chap 1: What. A. Game! Gerrard was magnificent!!!Chap 2: What were you watching? He was crap. His legs have gone and he should have been sent off twice. Your an idoit!Chap 3: Chelsea would destroy your lot. KTBFFHChap 1: Osman dived. If you knew anything about football you'd see that. Try getting out of your mum's basement once in a while.Chap 2: At least my mum would be a better player in the central pivot.Chap 4: I earned $20,000 dollars last year working from home. Click here to see how tinyulr.bty/567

And so on, with nary a pipe in sight.

Now you might think that this is just the rambunctious banter that you'd expect from football fans, but change the subject you'll find similar results. Apple vs Android, Christian vs Athiest, I've even seen a feud break out on a site where writers meet to encourage and share useful tips. Such is the fractious nature of comments culture that a law has been created which states that 'As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.' Spend any time following a thread and the inevitable truth of Godwin's law becomes a reality.

 

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