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Dhruv Rathee’s Facebook Ban: Don’t Blame Nehru, Blame Godwin’s Law

Why was the YouTuber banned? For posting screenshots of a Britannica article talking about the life of Hitler.

Updated
India
3 min read
YouTuber Dhruv Rathee was temporarily banned from Facebook for posting screenshots of a Britannica article talking about the life and rise of Adolf Hitler.
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Dhruv Rathee, a leading political YouTuber and frequent critic of the Modi government and the BJP, was briefly banned from Facebook on Monday, 18 March.

Collective chest-bumps and cheers among faceless trolls were heard across India who have spent sleepless night countering Rathee’s data and facts.

However, their celebrations were short-lived because Facebook restored Rathee’s account within 12 hours. This is 29 days and 12 hours less than what Facebook had initially said it would ban him for.

Why was Rathee banned in the first place? For posting screenshots of a Britannica article talking about the life and rise of Adolf Hitler. He had captioned this with – “These are paragraphs from biography of Hitler. Read the lines which I underlined in red.”

Facebook had initially declared that the post violated its community standards but later apologised and called it a “mistake” on its part.

But hang on, can we really let go of an episode without a mandatory round of “Blame it on Nehru”? We can’t.

But this time the blame lies somewhere else – “Godwin’s Law”.

Umm... what law?

Godwin's Law aka Internet's Most Common Phenomenon

First up, the law itself:

“As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”

Mike Godwin, a lawyer, author and commentator on digital rights, is the creator of this popular internet adage which, since its inception in 1990, has grown into one of the most discussed internet phenomenon.

This “law” gets proven thousands of times on a daily basis on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube – and basically anywhere human beings express their thoughts.

Everyone who has ever used the internet has encountered a situation where someone brings up Hitler or Nazis as a comparison to derail a debate and invalidate the other person’s argument.

For example:

Person 1: Women’s rights are human rights.

Person 2: Shut up, you feminazi!

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FB Basically Pulled Godwin's Law on Rathee

A corollary to Godwin’s Law states that once Hitler is mentioned, that discussion has ended. The implication here is that the debate has devolved to a level where any further discussion is pointless, and the individual invoking Hitler or Nazism has forfeited the debate.

In Rathee’s case, he had simply uploaded screenshots of pages from Encyclopedia Britannica on Adolf Hitler’s life and underlined select passages in red.

Facebook, in this case, appeared to have pulled a Godwin’s Law on Rathee’s post – implying any mention of Hitler must mean that the conversation must be put to an end.

The social media giant’s justification for banning Rathee’s account was on grounds of his post violating its community standards.

Facebook, however, said they had “made a mistake” in removing content.

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Big Question: What Is the Appropriate Way to Compare Someone to Hitler? Is There One?

This burning question has an answer from Mike Godwin himself.

On 14 August 2017, a tweet by Godwin had made headlines when he, uncharacteristically, weighed in on a Godwin’s Law debate, and said it was okay to describe extreme Right-wing groups in the United States, known as the alt-right, as Nazis.

This came after a racially charged violence broke out in Charlottesville, Virginia where white supremacists, including members of the Ku Klux Klan, had organised a rally. In a clash with groups opposed to the alt-right, one person died and several were left injured after a man ploughed into a crowd with his car.

When asked in a Washington Post interview why he made an exception for Charlottesville, Godwin said he was “horrified” by the violence.

“These horrible events, both the death of Ms [Heather] Heyer and also the violence, but also the poisoning of public culture, these things are all horrifying to me. I think that any moral person has to see these things and bear witness and think about how to talk about them.”
Mike Godwin
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If Trolls Ask : Is Godwin's Law Even a Thing?

This could make for a good question on daily prime time eardrum exploders aka television debates.

Fact remains, Godwin’s Law grew so famous that it even entered The Oxford English Dictionary. Everyone knows that Oxford Dictionaries is to Dictionaries what Oxford University is to Universities.

Dhruv Rathee’s Facebook Ban: Don’t Blame Nehru, Blame Godwin’s Law
(Photo courtesy: Oxford English Dictionary)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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