When Godwin's Law Met The Streisand Effect

from the take-it-down,-you-nazi dept

Okay, here's a fun post for a Friday evening: Earlier this week, I was at World Hosting Days, where I gave a keynote speech about the importance of CDA 230 and things like intermediary liability protections -- and why they are so important to protecting free speech online. The emcee of the event was Mike Godwin, who (among his many, many accomplishments over the years as an internet lawyer and philosopher) coined Godwin's Law. The organizers of the event, realizing that they had the guy who coined Godwin's Law and the guy (me!) who coined the Streisand Effect in the same place at the same time, thought it might be fun to have the two of us talk about these two memes.

And, voila. Here's the video of the two of us discussing it. We're also planning to release this as a podcast soon, so if you already listen to the Techdirt podcast and want to wait for that, feel free... But, if you want to skip ahead and watch/listen now, go for it.


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  • icon
    Michael Barclay (profile), 15 Sep 2017 @ 8:38pm

    For some odd reason, this reminds me of the Erdős–Bacon number

    There is a thing called the "Erdős–Bacon number."
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erd%C5%91s%E2%80%93Bacon_number
    For some odd reason, this post reminds me of that number.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TechDescartes (profile), 15 Sep 2017 @ 8:46pm

    So if Godwin's law meets the Streisand Effect...

    ...does that mean Mike literally is Hitler? I'm so confused.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 15 Sep 2017 @ 9:15pm

      Re: So if Godwin's law meets the Streisand Effect...

      No, it means Mike is trying to hide Hitler’s remains from public view by abusing the DMCA.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      peter, 16 Sep 2017 @ 10:41am

      Re: So if Godwin's law meets the Streisand Effect...

      Um.

      Hitler is suing websites to prevent all those nasty things being said about him?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 18 Sep 2017 @ 8:31am

      Re: So if Godwin's law meets the Streisand Effect...

      It's Schrodinger Mike! It's Mike and Hitler. And Barbra. And dinosaurs. And this would probably make an awesome movie.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Sep 2017 @ 8:48pm

    I have to admit, Mike; for the longest time, I didn't trust you. But then I read that the EFF thought well enough of you to give you an award.

    I may have not been so sure about you, but the EFF seems to be. And that's good enough for me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Discuss It (profile), 15 Sep 2017 @ 10:29pm

      Re:

      Mike's an OK guy. He can be a bit brusque, but that simply reflects he's got a lot on his plate and no time. Richard Stallman, on the other hand, is a complete - ahem -. But I guess he should be allowed to be, considering his contributions. When my CV can match his, then I guess I can be allowed to criticize.

      I remember this maxim from my childhood: "Always be polite. Being polite is a stock you never run out of, allows people to want to work with you, costs you nothing, and can enrich you through the good will of others."

      In my life, I've never had good luck in money, investments, jobs. The only area I consider I've been blessed with great fortune is other people. And I am very grateful for that. Some are rich in monetary terms, and I guess that's OK. But I am rich with my friends and acquaintances, and I consider that a treasure beyond price.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 15 Sep 2017 @ 10:36pm

        Re: Re:

        My father had taught me to be nice first, because you can always be mean later, but once you’ve been mean to someone, they won’t believe the nice anymore. So be nice, be nice, until it’s time to stop being nice, then destroy them.

        ~ from A Stroke of Midnight by Laurell K. Hamilton

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 15 Sep 2017 @ 11:43pm

        Re: Richard Stallman, on the other hand, is a complete - ahem

        He is a control freak. And a prophet.

        I am grateful to him for creating the GNU project and the GPL, and I listen to what he says, but I’m not sure I’d like to talk to him.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Max, 16 Sep 2017 @ 6:47am

          Re: Re: Richard Stallman, on the other hand, is a complete - ahem

          You're always allowed to criticize, full stop. It's called the right to have your own opinion and to express it. Having an impressive list of achievements only matters in that it might make others more inclined to give a crap about what you think. But you're always free to think something or someone else is (full of) crap and say so - never listen to pompous idiots who think you need their permission to do it.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous, 16 Sep 2017 @ 5:22am

        Re: Re:

        "When my CV can match his, then I guess I can be allowed to criticize."

        Nah, you're always allowed to criticize if they are shitbags.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    streetlight (profile), 16 Sep 2017 @ 7:15am

    Why not just jump to the end?

    Instead of having a long, multi input discussion ending up bringing up Hitler, just do it in the first couple of posts. Cut to the chase, as it were.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    DONT BE STUPID BE EDUCATED, 16 Sep 2017 @ 8:38am

    this thing i see often

    the thing i see often is godwins law being used ot stop all discussions of nazi past kinda like churchill said those that forget there past are doomed to relive it ....one must not forget this....there can be valid paralells of behavior seen in actions of ....so drawing to that you need to know how those that had those behaviors faired in the end...

    we the people of earth united and ended it....and hung those involved

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 16 Sep 2017 @ 9:10am

      Re: this thing i see often

      Godwin’s Law is not an actual law, you know. People who invoke it without knowing what it actually means other than “stop comparing people to Nazis” do so out of ignorance. It is more or less an informal guideline meant to keep arguments from devolving into petty namecalling and rhetorical low-blows—and to end an argument when it does go there.

      You can compare groups and people to Nazis; doing so without a strong argument for the comparison invokes Godwin‘s Law. If you want to make the comparison, be sure you can back it up.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        OA (profile), 16 Sep 2017 @ 1:17pm

        Re: Re: this thing i see often

        People who invoke it without knowing what it actually means other than “stop comparing people to Nazis” do so out of ignorance.

        I never liked Godwin's law, but the reason was, as you wrote, because of the people who use it poorly. Also, the "law" part is too often interpreted as an absolute, encouraging some to overestimate their understanding of the world. However, my dislike for Godwin's law, itself, may have been unfair.

        ...keep arguments from devolving into petty namecalling and rhetorical low-blows...

        When words gain social power, they'll be used to attack others, even when inapplicable. IMO, 'arguments' are already a devolvement, but that may just be semantics.

        You can compare groups and people to Nazis;... If you want to make the comparison, be sure you can back it up.

        It is not enough to dislike nazis or think they are bad. Even the most righteous of dislikes mean little if you don't understand the hows and whys of an evil. The triggers and causes don't go away just because a significant manifestation of an evil collapses. - Just look at current events: we are apparently still fighting The Civil War; we have a President that defended actual nazis, with a disturbing number of people plainly agreeing; Police who have little problem beating up mostly peaceful protestors, did virtually nothing to white supremacists and nazis that clearly engaged in premeditated violence.

        Many (perhaps all) of the constituent components that made up 'nazism' is still present in society and day-to-day life. Since nazism was supposed to be a near universally recognized evil, it was useful to compare today's components to the components that helped create the reviled events of nazi Germany. Instead, I feel, the use or misuse of Godwin's Law helped suppress this vital discussion. Progress was presumed not demonstrated.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          R.H. (profile), 16 Sep 2017 @ 5:24pm

          Re: Re: Re: this thing i see often

          Your final paragraph is the reason why Mr. Godwin himself stated in the aftermath of those events that if you're referring to actual Nazi's, you aren't invoking Godwin's law. I'd say that a Neo-Nazi is close enough to be covered by that statement.

          I don't understand how many of us in America seem to have become such poor students of history. Can't we understand that this level of divisiveness is bad for everyone? If the far-right gets the Civil War Part 2 that they seem to be pushing for, don't they understand that they won't be in the majority? Some of us liberals do enjoy firearms enough to own some of them after all.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          orbitalinsertion (profile), 17 Sep 2017 @ 2:56pm

          Re: Re: Re: this thing i see often

          "Authoritarian" or some other relevant descriptor shared by Nazi's and the intended target of comparison (assuming the case is even valid and not simply an insult) just doesn't have the same ring as calling something or someone "Nazi". "Nazi" is lazily overused to push people's buttons. (So are other horrible dictatorship-related party and figurehead names.)

          You really encounter discussions being shut down when there are valid comparisons, via overuse of Godwin's Law claims? I can't imagine a discussion being vital and also capable of being shut down by this or other issues or derailment. I haven't been everywhere, but i have been a lot of different places on the net for a very long time, and i haven't encountered this. I have seen an occasional feeble attempt, but these have hardly had any effect other than to add to discussion how Godwin's Law may or may not apply.

          Many components of Nazism were always with us. Of course they still exist. I hardly argue that Godwin should be misused, but there are plenty of other comparisons if any are, in fact, needed. This is a thing in itself - people distance or remain ignorant of the actions and history of their own cultures, states, etc., because comparing something to a fairly remote and "dead" episode of world history is easier. Sometimes i personally find a nazi comparison pointless, where something is bad enough in its own right. Would one have called Stalin / the Soviet Communist party "nazis" at the time? The brutal authoritarian natures which we like to use for these comparisons are essentially the same.

          Apparently i find this highly interesting. Sorry about the wall of text.

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          • icon
            OA (profile), 17 Sep 2017 @ 6:48pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: this thing i see often

            I agree with the first paragraph.

            You really encounter discussions being shut down when there are valid comparisons, via overuse of Godwin's Law claims?

            Yes(ish). But, I don't remember or care about those. Simply shutting down discussions is blunt and easy to detect, easy to condemn, easy to avoid. The problem is the more subtle ways discussion is guided away from the reasonable and even deteriorates into argument. Unfortunately, nazis were not inhuman "monsters", whose actions were so far from typical that it is has no modern relevance.

            I hardly argue that Godwin should be misused, but there are plenty of other comparisons if any are, in fact, needed. This is a thing in itself - people distance or remain ignorant of the actions and history of their own cultures, states, etc., because comparing something to a fairly remote and "dead" episode of world history is easier.

            Good comments... The nazi regime is relatively recent, their sins grotesque, the events "baffling" ("how could this happen?", etc), its attributes relevant. This collective memory is powerful. If this power isn't used to impress upon us warnings and wisdom then it will have some other effect (and it has). To borrow a phrase, "nature abhors a vacuum". I agree with (and have used myself) the point about this be 'fairly remote', but this is unavoidable. It can be mitigated a bit. For example, we could recognize that the nazis literally used aspects learned from America's racial caste system. Yikes! When related subject matter is discussed, this is the kind of thing adults should collectively come to grips with. Instead we develop collective delusions and myth-making. The conditions of today are NOT THAT SURPRISING!...

            Anyway, I'm not blaming Godwin or his law. I don't want Mr. Masnick to ban me for insulting his BFF. :)

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyoty (profile), 16 Sep 2017 @ 9:47pm

    If I try to suppress all negative discussion about me by calling my critics Nazis, do I create a paradox?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    MrBill, 17 Sep 2017 @ 6:36am

    Uniting Godwin and Streisand?

    Texas attorney Jason Lee Van Dyke just filed a lawsuit against a tabloid publisher for calling him a Nazi. This has the potential of bringing wider attention to Van Dyke's history of bigoted statements and violent threats. In my opinion, calling Van Dyke a Nazi is an acceptable hyperbolic opinion, based on his history. https://www.scribd.com/document/359082216/Van-Dyke-v-Mockingbird-et-al

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Dan (profile), 17 Sep 2017 @ 12:44pm

      Re: Uniting Godwin and Streisand?

      Calling him a Nazi is almost certainly a statement of opinion which wouldn't be actionable (regardless of how many or few people would agree with the opinion). The other claims, according to JLVD's complaint, are (1) JLVD was convicted of weapons charges and domestic violence; (2) as a result of (1), JLVD is prohibited by federal law from possessing a firearm, and therefore his possession of firearms is illegal; and (3) JLVD has engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. The "open letter" JLVD attached to his complaint clearly states (1); (2) and (3) are less clearly stated, but are at least mentioned. Those are statements which purport to be factual; if false, they are actionable.

      OTOH, JLVD filing the action in Texas is crap, and the action should be dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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