It’s a cliche that’s almost as old as the internet itself, and it’s summed up succinctly by Godwin’s Law:
As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches – 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. The first utterance of such comparison is called the Godwin point of the discussion.
A blogger operating under the name GuriousGnu wasn’t necessarily attempting to prove Godwin’s Law. But CuriousGnu almost did, after analyzing publicly available data from Reddit. First, CuriousGnu made a list that shows the top subreddits that mention either Hitler or Naziism. This list might come as somewhat reassuring to anyone who’s spent more than a little time in online communities, as the top five subreddits for Hitler mentions are:
- /de (Germany)
So it seems likely most of these Nazi-tinged threads might’ve at least been relevant to discussions on history.
CuriousGnu also made a graph that really starts to put Godwin’s Law into perspective:
Then I excluded history subreddits and looked at the probability that a Reddit thread mentions Nazis or Hitler at least once. Unsuprisigly, the probability of a Nazi refrence increases as the threads get bigger. Nevertheless, I didn’t expect that the probability would be over 70% for a thread with more than 1,000 comments.
CuriousGun goes on to state that the next logical step in the experiment would be to do advanced analyses using sophisticated text-mining techniques that would be difficult and time-consuming to complete. Still, this bit of analysis gives us some interesting (if not humorous) insight into what really happens when people congregate and communicate online.