Leave Feedback

Godwin's Law

Matt Morgan • Aug 21, 2014 at 4:50 PM

Literally, Hitler

Is it just me or is everyone, everywhere overusing hyperbole these days?

The above hyperbole aside, have you all noticed its increase here and elsewhere? There is hardly an outlet to which we can turn that doesn't feature it in some way. Dang it, there it is again. How about we just look at some examples? Headlines can be notorious for such things.


Dem Chief Piles On: Deported Children Face 'Certain Death'


This then, from Huffington Post's main page, hyperlinks to:



"Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz also thinks deporting children detained at the border is sending them back to 'certain death'.”


Now as we dig deeper and go to the article the Huffington Post itself hosts:



"A morgue director in the city Honduran city of San Pedro Sula told The Los Angeles Times that 'at least five, perhaps as many as 10' children killed there since February had been deported from the United States."


Ok, woah, hold up there. By just taking a peek a bit deeper than a front page, then a headline, then a sister story, and into the heart of the matter itself, we have an anecdotal case of five to 10 children being shot after returning from deportation. From that, then, we can extrapolate that [all] deported children face certain (inevitable, 100 percent) death? Mind you the rest of the HuffPo article doesn't even go into details about circumstances of the deaths.


Naturally, the comment sections then always blow up amid those who probably never read past the headline, those who accept everything at face value as truth, and the rest who bother to look at least one step beyond the report.


Did you catch that? That was hyperbole again. Sneaky, isn't it? Yet while I was baiting those of you of like mind for support and approval with my broad statements, I also alienated some and rendered my credibility pretty poor in the process.


Having warmed up on the above, we can now delve into just what Godwin's Law is. Godwin's law (or Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies) is an Internet adage asserting that "as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1" —​ that is, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or Nazism.


It was an interesting early delve into the concepts of fallacies and memetics in the Internet Age. It's a phenomenon that perhaps some of us have come across here and elsewhere too! As the term "memetics" would imply, the Internet cannot simply let a seeming-truth like this go. No, it must evolve and grow even stronger to adapt to the current culture and technology. As bulletin board systems have been largely replaced, visual media is now more pervasive to carry the gentle reminder that all hyperbole is bad. Hmmm ... can I call myself out for that last statement?


For as much as people may decry conservatives and the Tea Party movement as being backward on evolution, one of their own gave a recent mutation to this fallacy with: Literally Hitler. Originally making the comparison of "Know who else said they were Christian? Hitler!" we can now roll our eyes at something else and once again say, "Thanks, Obama." It's quite silly, isn't it? Yet hyperbole (Hitler-esque or not) happens quite often and even with people whom you would presume to be well-credentialed.


Remember the article series above? A mere 10 hours into its posting and we get this gem:


"Well, it won't bother many Americans very much. They are used to killing kids. With bombs, rockets and drones across the Middle East, in Vietnam 30 years ago, in the firebomb raids of WW2 in Germany and Japan. And, of course, indirectly, like the embargos that killed a half million kids in Iraq a few years back. Gee, they even help other countries to kill kids. Like Israel."


Tadaaa! This is what passes for an attempt at legitimate commentary. Nice, neat, and to the point! Who can argue that?


As we all know, erm, I should say "as can be observed" instead. Anyway. As can be observed, the Internet is not without a sense of humor. In its constant eugenic push of memes, communicative one-upmanship, relevancy and evolving media Godwin's Law has sprouted into a few other forms. Each reminds us just how meaningless it is to make such drastic comparisons.


The first is "The Hitler Game." To play, simply click on a random Wikipedia link and within five other links try to find yourself to Hitler. A bit of a somber version of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. For example:









Finally we come to "Hitler Finds Out," a YouTube-born series wherein the bunker scene from 2004's history-drama Downfall is given English subtitles that don't quite match what an angry Hitler is actually saying. Simply typing those three words in a search will offer up what happens when Hitler finds out the ending to Breaking Bad, Star Wars being bought by Disney and even Hitler finding out "Americans are calling each other Nazis." There's a few cuss words in that one, so just a heads-up.


Keep the sentiment of Godwin's Law in mind as you read, listen, write and speak here and elsewhere. Hyperbole exists, can be sneaky or unintended, and actually can ruin the importance of what you have to say. The legitimacy of your point could be threatened by such dire comparisons. If you don't even bother trying to catch it, well then truly, you are worse than Hitler.


Recommended for You