Cyber Law

When is it Okay to Compare Someone Or Something to Hitler Or the Nazis?

Last Monday, I brought up the topic of free speech on the Internet. After wanting to talk about Creative Commons licensing and subsequently having their site crash my computer, I decided to continue last week’s discussion instead.

This week’s “law” isn’t one that can be upheld in a court per se, rather it’s a sociological one. In 1990, attorney Michael Godwin observed that “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1 (inevitability.)” His observation, now known as Godwin’s Law, originally applied specifically to Usenet, but over the past 20 years, its accuracy has been proven far and wide across the Internet.

We can infer from last week’s post that comparing someone to a Nazi is not illegal, and we now know that it happens frequently. So, what’s the issue? One can imagine that adding references to Hitler and Nazism to a conversation evokes images and implies comparisons that are graphic, brutal, and for some, downright traumatic. And, again, while not illegal, subjecting one’s audience to such things (especially in an online presentation that was not intended to discuss Nazism) stretches the boundaries of free speech a little too far for my comfort. So, do the Internet a favor and heed the advice of my friend monker59 in his discussion of this topic (found by clicking his username.)

New Fact: Godwin’s Law states that as an online discussion grows longer, it becomes increasingly likely that a comparison will be made to Hitler or the Nazis.