User:Thorncrag/Stop assuming good faith

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Stop hand

One of the pillars of Wikipedia, and fundamental to maintaining a functional and collegial atmosphere is to assume good faith. This is pivotal, because with all of the complex machinations of contributing to Wikipedia, it is perfectly reasonable and even expected that editors—particularly new ones—will ultimately make a mistake at one point. There are a lot of guidelines and policies to become aware of, which can take some time to become familiar with. It is for that reason, that we offer liberal and generous amounts of good faith to users who make these honest mistakes.

An assumption is to hold something to be true when given no reason or no evidence to hold to the contrary. As with assume good faith, we assume that a new user's intentions were good because a lack of a user's contributions can't give a foundation to doubt their good faith.

However, there are some obvious and not-so-obvious limitations that should be applied to this guideline and I myself have seen a great deal of mis-application of this guideline. I discuss below how the concept of good faith should be separated into three important and distinct parts.

Assume does not mean presume[edit]

The guideline on assuming good faith is in my opinion too broad, because there is a distinction between assumption and presumption. To presume something, is to hold something to be true based on the probability of it being true. This differs from assumption because whereas to assume would be completely absent any evidence, to presume would be based upon the probability given an editor's positive or negative contribution history. Thus, once an editor has established a pattern of either positive or negative behavior, we have moved beyond the realm of assumption, and rather, have moved into the realm of presumption. Whether there is doubt or not as to an editor's pattern does not matter: what matters is it is no longer a matter of assumptions absent evidence. This having been said, when there is doubt, and seeing that a user has contributed positively to a reasonable degree, then good faith ought to be presumed.

Holmes, the master of deductive reasoning.

Assume does not mean deduce[edit]

Assuming good faith is not a defense. That is to say, an editor who enjoys good standing has no reason to invoke the guideline when facing scrutiny applied to their actions.

Assuming good faith however, does not mean we ignore a user's editing habits. If a user has shown to be disruptive then it is no longer possible to assume because there is now evidence to the contrary. It is therefore inappropriate to expect or instruct editors to assume good faith of other editors whom have shown to be disruptive. A reasonable person standard must be employed here: if a user's history shows a pattern of becoming disruptive—even if that user has made visible efforts to modify their behavior—at some point, a reasonable person must weigh the user's behavior to deduce whether their contributions have been a net positive or a net negative. To expect editors to assume good faith and ignore a user's prior disruption would be tantamount to a suicide pact.

Assume good faith is not exculpatory. The guideline is not an escape route from facing scrutiny and should not be applied in this manner. No editor should be excused from facing scrutiny simply because we choose to assume their intentions were good. After all, constructive feedback begins with identifying that a mistake was made, and the editor acknowledging the mistake with the covenant that they shall endeavor not to repeat the mistake.

A troll, provoking Wikipedia editors.

Assume good faith should not be employed as a bludgeon[edit]

Sometimes it is easier to tell an editor to assume good faith when raising concerns than to actually look into the claims of that editor. We must however be cognizant of the possible circular reasoning we may be employing here: to claim that the complaining user is not themselves assuming good faith is in fact failing to assume good faith with regard to the complaining editor. It is more likely than not that the complaining editor is raising concerns because they have sufficient cause to raise those concerns. We should therefore be very careful as reasonable editors not to fail to assume good faith when suggesting that others do.

Assume good faith should not apply to trolls[edit]

Because Wikipedia is open to editing by all, it is ripe for being invaded by trolls. These users, as discussed in this ARBCOM opinion of trolls, employ sometimes intricate tactics of disruptive behavior, purely for the sake of relishing in and or gauging of the reaction generated by their actions. These users should never be offered an assumption of good faith: doing so only delays the eventual and inevitable outcome which is expulsion of the troll. Once a troll is identified, their editing privileges should be revoked, and they should be ignored under the denial guideline.

A strong reason to deny the application of assume or presume good faith when dealing with trolls is because evaluating their net positive or net negative contribution to the encyclopedia is irrelevant: trolls by their very definition operate to provoke others. Therefore it is entirely conceivable—in fact likely—that a sophisticated troll will in fact make attempts, sometimes equal to or even more so than their malicious activities, to appear positive if only to further elude their identification and blocking. Furthermore, a troll's intention is clear: it is not to ultimately be constructive. They should therefore be treated for what they really are.

See also[edit]