Poe’s Law

Poe's Law

Poe’s law is an Internet adage reflecting the idea that without a clear indication of the author’s intent, it is difficult or impossible to tell the difference between an expression of sincere extremism and a parody of extremism. A corollary of Poe’s law is the reverse phenomenon: sincere fundamentalist beliefs can be mistaken for a parody of those beliefs.

The statement was formulated in 2005 by Nathan Poe on the website christianforums.com in a debate about creationism. The original sentence read: ‘Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is utterly impossible to parody a Creationist in such a way that someone won’t mistake [it] for the genuine article.’

The sentiments expressed by Poe date back much earlier – at least to 1983, when Jerry Schwarz in a post on Usenet wrote: ‘Avoid sarcasm and facetious remarks. Without the voice inflection and body language of personal communication these are easily misinterpreted. A sideways smile, :-), has become widely accepted on the net as an indication that ‘I’m only kidding.’ If you submit a satiric item without this symbol, no matter how obvious the satire is to you, do not be surprised if people take it seriously.’ Another precedent posted on Usenet dates to 2001. Following the well-known schema of Arthur C. Clarke’s third law (any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic), Alan Morgan wrote: ‘Any sufficiently advanced parody is indistinguishable from a genuine kook.’

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