Wed 1 Aug 2018 10:57PM

CoC: assume good faith versus don't assume bad faith

AW Aaron Wolf Public Seen by 261

I proposed the "Assume Good Faith" guideline as I think the principle of charitable interpretation is extremely important, especially online. However, I've recently lost some comfort with the term.

As a proactive assertion, "assume good faith" can even read as an obligation even in light of evidence to the contrary. Ideally, what we want is no assumptions at all, particularly not assumptions of bad faith.

I still like positive assertions that messages be interpreted with charity. People should keep in mind the potential for a communication to have been in good faith. Keeping an open mind that way and replying with grace is the point. The point isn't actually to assume good faith.

So, what about alternatives like "don't assume bad faith"?

That no long works in the positive DOs list, but it says not to assume rather than to assume.

Positive framing includes things like "interpret with charity" or some things in those directions. That at least leaves it more open to each person to not feel obligated to make certain assumptions…

Or maybe "Assume Good Faith" is good enough (and my initial liking is because it's already a widespread concept)…?


Fabián Heredia Montiel Thu 2 Aug 2018 12:59AM

I am good either way, however since it is in encouraged behaviour (rather than unacceptable behaviour)

I am inclined to keep a "yes do this" rather than a "don't do this" phrasing. If there is a simple-majority for the "don't assume bad faith" phrasing I am good with the change.


Gil Scott Fitzgerald Thu 2 Aug 2018 3:26AM

Maybe "acknowledge the possibility of good faith"?


emi do Thu 2 Aug 2018 12:47PM

I personally don't have any negative connotations with assume good faith.

In thinking about how we want this CoC to be used, I feel like it's to set the tone for how we want members to interact with one another. I think in this light, it is important that we include something in the CoC which indicates that IF you should feel uncomfortable, that there are measures you can take to get support and address the issue (ie NOT feel obligated to assume good faith if there is evidence to the contrary).

Jake and Manu's versions had this at the end:

If I am offended or uncomfortable with content I know that I can:

a) [engage] with a user directly to communicate and resolve our differences
b) [block] or [mute] a user
c) [report the incident to social.coop]

  • i) using Mastodon's [Report feature]
  • ii) using [this form]

Matt Noyes Thu 2 Aug 2018 3:46PM

That content seems important to include, Emi. Thanks for catching that. Can you paste it into the latest version? Or post it in a comment?


Neville Park Thu 2 Aug 2018 5:57PM

I'm rather leery of the potential for abuse of "assume good faith"/"don't assume bad faith", but realize I am probably very much in the minority.

Would a good modifier be "assume good faith when actively engaging with people"? That is, you aren't obliged to reply to people and you can block/mute at will, but if you actually engage in a conversation with them you should give them the benefit of the doubt.


Aaron Wolf Thu 2 Aug 2018 6:45PM

I think the how-to-resolve stuff should be in a separate doc from the CoC itself, it's part of the handling/reporting and we should have the entire level of dealing with problems in one place, not separate self-help from reporting.

So, I think we should have a self-help (that's the co-op values term) section of the reporting doc prior to the sections about full reports.


Aaron Wolf Thu 2 Aug 2018 6:50PM

I think "assume good faith" works if we annotate it (I mentioned separately that we should have a separate annotated edition of the CoC).

I still like everything about what Assume Good Faith is intended to do. And it applies even when not engaging with people. So, we should see good faith when reading even if we don't reply or in other cases…

I think I really just want a word to replace "assume" that means "remember the potential for". This may just be too pick. Maybe just having an explanation of "assume good faith" is all we need.


emi do Thu 2 Aug 2018 10:06PM

@mattnoyes I posted it in a comment on the etherpad... maybe I did it on the wrong version? https://pad.disroot.org/p/Social.Coop_Code_of_Conduct_V2.2FH#


Simon Grant Thu 2 Aug 2018 3:49PM

I'm thinking that introducing a very little context might help resolve this. What about "when assessing someone's character or motives, work from evidence, including what they say when asked, rather than assumptions"


Aaron Wolf Thu 2 Aug 2018 6:53PM

I like the direction. But the goal is that we are constantly assessing motives and character whether we realize it or not. So there's no time where this is on or off. We should always be keeping in mind the potential for misunderstanding and that someone else may be acting in good faith.

So, an explanation like: "When in doubt about someone's good faith, ask for clarification or otherwise respond with benefit-of-the-doubt. Do not assume bad faith."

I particularly like the term "benefit of the doubt" as that's key here, I think.


emi do Thu 2 Aug 2018 10:28PM

I like the sound of that as an explanation, maybe a bubble that pops up if you hover over the "assume good faith". It feels a bit out of place with the rest of the CoC wording which is more concise/precise?


Aaron Wolf Thu 2 Aug 2018 10:33PM

I separately mentioned annotated version. I think we can benefit from all parts of the CoC being really precise and concise, then have larger explanations in a separate annotated doc (I don't think hover is reliable enough).


Manuela Bosch Tue 7 Aug 2018 12:28PM

@wolftune did this discussion so far help to come up with a proposal or to move one step further? Where exactly do we still need to find more clarity in oder to resolve this?


Aaron Wolf Tue 7 Aug 2018 2:19PM

I could see three possible outcomes:

  1. change nothing (overall we don't think the concern is a big enough deal)
  2. switch the term to something like "don't assume bad faith"
  3. provide some explanation (either within the CoC as a sub-bullet or start drafting the annotated version of the CoC that I proposed elsewhere and draft an explanation of "Assume Good Faith" clarifying how to think about it)

Manuela Bosch Tue 7 Aug 2018 6:35PM

Thanks for the clear summary, Aaron. What do the others here think? About 2: Generally I like to avoid formulating things negatively, it better to talk about what we want, to be able to work towards something instead of against. 3: is only an option if we can keep the CoC text still short. If 3 means a considerable increase in text, maybe 1: change nothing.


emi do Wed 8 Aug 2018 1:33PM

TL,DR: I vote for option 3 if it's happening anyway, or option 1

I seem to recall there was some support for an annotated version for CoC though I can't seem to find over what issues we thought this would be helpful. If we are doing an annotated version anyway, I don't think this addition would hurt.

However, if we are debating about whether or not to have an annotated version, I would vote for not as I'm not sure how necessary it is at this time.


Becci Cat Mon 20 Aug 2018 11:15AM

"Assume good faith" is widely abused on Wikipedia - it means that even when someone has demonstrated bad faith, a person can be blamed for pointing this out. I would much prefer "don't assume bad faith."


Robert Benjamin Mon 20 Aug 2018 10:59PM

Agreed. The "assume good faith" tenet seems murky at the moment. Though will have to slip deeper into the CoC draft to see it's context.


Edward L Platt Mon 20 Aug 2018 11:18PM

Assume good faith seems like more of a guideline (as it is on Wikipedia). The CoC is for defining clear boundaries and procedures, so while I agree with the AGF philosophy, the CoC is probably not the best place.


Aaron Wolf Tue 21 Aug 2018 12:10AM

The point is to have something that is actually part of the CoC. It's not a general suggestion. To be clear: accusing someone of acting in bad faith or effectively replying to someone with an assumption of bad faith (lacking adequate evidence of bad faith) is a real problem.

While there are all too many bad-faith actors out there, a huge portion of the misunderstandings and tragic, unnecessary conflicts between good faith participants comes from them treating one another as acting in bad faith. People have a sincere difference of political views or just misinterpret or sloppily-express something that leads to a misunderstanding. Instead of questioning and asking about the intent, people go with their impression of bad-faith and conflicts arise that shouldn't have happened.

At Wikipedia, AGF is not a mere guideline. It's enforced in the sense that failing to AGF is treated as a violation of community principles. Continual violation of AGF can even lead to reduced privileges etc.

We want a situation where a post that unfairly assumes bad faith can be taken down for that reason. But we also don't want bad-faith actors to be able to hide behind AGF, of course. That's the difficulty here.