Wikipedia:Assume the assumption of good faith

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In heated disputes, users often remind others to "Assume good faith" (AGF) whom they perceive to be doing the contrary. However, like bad faith itself, the assumption of bad faith should not be assumed merely because at first glance it might seem to be present. The AGF guideline recognizes that one can easily misjudge another's intentions or motives, and thus urges caution in that area. Ironically, the very act of citing AGF can suggest an assumption of bad faith, since one is assuming that the other is not also assuming good faith.

As long as you expect others not to make unwarranted assumptions about you, you should extend the same courtesy to them. While it might occasionally be helpful to inform or remind someone that the Assumption of Good Faith is expected, this should be avoided more often than not. Someone being told to AGF who does not see how they were doing otherwise is likely to feel antagonized, which will only escalate matters because of the clueless situation. In such situations it is recommended the one who reminds AGF be willing to explain why the person is doing so politely with support of policies. But, one who often feels the need to remind others to AGF would instead do well to look inward and consider that those others may not be the whole problem. Even if after thinking it over you remain convinced that someone is assuming bad faith, ask for clarification to avoid being a victim of herd mentality and personally feel bullied. Productive members of the community will consider this and look inward themselves and provide their valid reasons for doubting that good faith is present within the essential principles and guidelines.

In cases where you feel that someone definitely needs to be cautioned for interpersonal behavioral issues, rather than actually citing AGF consider citing a policy applicable to the situation, such as Wikipedia:No personal attacks, Wikipedia:Civility, or Wikipedia:Harassment and alternatively approach for administrator attention. It is always better if the person who feels suppressed doesn't act as disruptive as the other person for the Administrator to intervene neutrally and appropriately.

Good Faith and Bad Faith: A Primer[edit]

Misuse of "Assume Good Faith" usually stems from an ignorance or improper understanding of the policies and at times what good and bad faith really are. This may also combine with a certain degree of defensiveness.

In order to understand the issue of whether or not someone is truly assuming bad faith, we must go beyond the catchphrase "assume good faith", and understand what good and bad faith really are and are not, and thus what an assumption of each really means within the context.

What "Bad Faith" Is[edit]

A bad faith edit, or a bad faith comment, is an edit or comment made deliberately to disrupt the project. The best example of genuine bad faith is vandalism. While bad faith is not strictly limited to vandalism, the key component of bad faith is the deliberate attempt to be unconstructive.

What "Bad Faith" Is NOT[edit]

Thus, any edit that is not deliberately unconstructive was not in "bad faith", even if it turns out to be unconstructive. The following things are not "bad faith":

  • Honest mistakes
  • Errors
  • A typo or misspelling, even if it changes the meaning of the sentence
  • Not knowing how to format wikitext
  • Not knowing how to cite sources
  • Not knowing how to identify reliable sources
  • Having incomplete information
  • Being the victim of misinformation or disinformation
  • Having trusted someone who told you incorrect information
  • Poor judgement or lapse in judgement
  • Misunderstanding Wikipedia policies and guidelines
  • Not having read the most recent versions of Wikipedia's rules
  • Misunderstanding another editor's comments
  • Getting too emotionally involved in an article or discussion
  • Incorrect grammar
  • Not writing English fluently
  • Having different personal or cultural values (e.g., valuing individualism more than groups, preferences about how gentle or harsh criticism of public figures should be)

Therefore, telling someone that they have made an error, or misunderstood a policy, or gotten too emotionally involved in an article or discussion is not assuming bad faith, but creating a collaborative working environment. Telling someone they are mistaken is entirely compatible with assuming good faith. Someone who expresses the opinion that another editor's actions have harmed the project is not assuming bad faith, unless the charge made indicates a deliberate intention to harm.

Examples of Misuse[edit]

Example 1[edit]

Bob nominates an article for deletion due to lack of notability. Mary, who wants to keep the article, tells Bob, "It's plenty notable – please go to Google and do a search on '(search term + search term)'." Bob replies, "You are confused; as the person nominating the article for deletion, I am under no burden to dig for coverage to support notability. That burden is on those who wrote the article, and those who want to keep the article, like you." Mary replies: "No, not confused at all, please WP:AGF. Nobody asked you to dig for anything, I just demonstrated how easy it was to find coverage."

At this point, Mary has already assumed "Bad Faith". Bob said she was confused and made it personal for Mary rather than explaining with policies and taking an effort. Bob very possibly might not have meant to accuse, and the word "confused" might have been used as persuasion tactic rather than breaching civility or pointing out on doing something deliberately unconstructive. Bob also misused "Assume good faith" by further personalizing it for Mary by grouping her with "those who want to keep the article" without evidence.

The exchange continues, as Bob says, "'Assume good faith' has nothing to do with this. You said to me, "Please go to Google and search," but now you say, "Nobody asked for you to dig for anything", so you are contradicting yourself. NOW you try to change your story by saying that you were demonstrating how easy it was to find something, yet you didn't demonstrate at that time, you didn't provide anything, you only directed me to do a Google search." Mary replies, "Remember, comment on the article not the editor. ‘You are confused' was targeted at me, not the article. This is not assuming good faith on your part. And now I'm contradicting myself and I'm 'changing my story'? Huh? Again for you, please see WP:AGF."

Bob explains to Mary how he feels and Mary retaliates and tries to be go by the rules. There is nothing in the "assume good faith" guideline that says anything about commenting on the article, not the editor. She is now emotionally involved and confusing WP:AGF with WP:NPA, a sign of being a newcomer to the Wikipedia project. Also, pointing out that someone has contradicted an earlier statement is in itself a statement of fact, and is not an assumption of any kind. Contradictions can also be unintentional. Most importantly, if one editor points out something another editor has done, which can be seen by other editors, there is no assumption needed to be made, so accusing that person of assumption of bad faith is inappropriate. Both Bob and Mary have thus misused "Assume Good Faith" and made a simple conversation right alongside with the proverbial wisdom "It Takes Two Hands Clapping to Make a Noise".

Example 2[edit]

Bill sees a Featured Article that he feels does not meet notability requirements, and should have been merged into another article. He starts a section on the article's talk page, wondering if this article is evidence of problems with Wikipedia's process for nominating featured articles. Steve replies "Please try to assume good faith of other editors; no one is trying to sabotage the wiki."

Steve has misused "Assume Good Faith". Bill never accused anyone of any deliberate wrongdoing, just possible lapse in judgment, and a possible problem with a Wikipedia procedure that might need addressing. Not only was Steve failing to assume the assumption of good faith, he also was uncivil when he put words into Bill's mouth by saying "no one is trying to sabotage the wiki" when Bill never claimed anyone was trying to sabotage anything and it was an early reply to a content that is without evidences.

Example 3[edit]

Greg tells Randy to stop posting on the user talk page of a third user who has requested the same. Greg says that when someone asks you to stop posting on their user talk page, continuing to do so is discourteous. Randy disagrees, and tells Greg to AGF. Greg replies that he believes that Randy is acting in perfectly good faith, but with poor judgment. Randy says that characterizing his actions as "discourteous" assumes bad faith. This is incorrect, as discourtesy does not imply intentional malice. Greg has simply opined that Randy has not shown good judgment in dealing with this user.


Ultimately, this essay has been an attempt to provide more detailed guidance to avoid doing what WP:AGF cautions us to avoid doing:

Be careful about citing this principle too aggressively. Just as one can incorrectly judge that another is acting in bad faith, so too can one mistakenly conclude that bad faith is being assumed, and exhortations to "Assume Good Faith" can themselves reflect negative assumptions about others.

So stop and think about it before using it.

See also[edit]