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AT some point - "assume good intent" was removed from the CoC.

It's a key pillar of the social contract and how we choose to deal with each other. It belongs in the Code of Conduct.

PLEASE add this back.

It's been brought up that I asked for this in the feedback for a previous revision of the CoC as well. Since I was clearly so much more articulate and energetic then - for your consideration.

Or alternatively Presume good intent, as Gilles brought up in the comments.

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    While I love this post came here to write this very same thing I also wonder if its totally futile. SE seems to have stopped listening to users as evident by the fact that they just put the new CoC "into production" with no community input. A far cry even from where we used to be – David Grinberg Oct 11 at 1:13
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    I'm too tired to make this into an answer tonight: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/334900/… Directing us to assume good intent is a lollipop to a troll. They play us like fiddles and laugh themselves silly when we finally get angry. If you haven't experienced that, lucky you. – Kate Gregory Oct 11 at 1:48
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    If we tailor our behaviour to the worst of us - we're forgetting the best of us. Assume good intend dosen't mean stand by and do nothing. – Journeyman Geek Oct 11 at 1:49
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    I have taken "assume good intent" as inspiration from the CoC and incorporated it into my offline life. It is good advice to live by. I'd love to see it on the CoC again. – Modus Tollens Oct 11 at 4:12
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    No SE staff here, so we are basically in an echo chamber, and nobody from SE is actually caring to hear anything from us. OTOH on questions posted by SE staff, comments are being heavily deleted and answers that do not comply with SE's views are being edited or deleted altogether. – Victor Stafusa Oct 11 at 4:31
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    @KateGregory Serious question: If we do not assume good intent, what is our default stance? Do we assume bad intent? Is there some third middle ground I'm not thinking of (its late... maybe I'm being dumb)? It feels like you're basically saying assume everyone who disagrees with you is a troll and ignore them – David Grinberg Oct 11 at 4:55
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    Although “assume good faith” is traditional, Ben Kovitz makes a good point that “presume good faith” would be more accurate. – Gilles Oct 11 at 7:29
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    What I am saying is, when someone says something "off" or "wrong", don't ignore it because "they probably mean well." Gently correct them. If they persist, and it's clear some people are uncomfortable, don't rebuke the people who are saying "no, that's not right" by lecturing them that the person undoubtedly means well. Don't insist that our core values are up for debate and discussion every time. Write some FAQs and point people to them. Enforce policies (this content cannot stay) independent of intent (it was written that way accidentally). Defend vulnerable people even from mistakes. – Kate Gregory Oct 11 at 11:28
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    Apparently the 2018 version. I was surprised too! – Journeyman Geek Oct 11 at 12:14
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    For me, "good intent" is a starting point, i.e. I assume it before seeing proof to the inverse. But good intent is not assumed anymore when e.g. people are just posting their programming assignments verbatim. Good intent is not assumed anymore when somebody defends his crypto scheme against all reason. Or, said otherwise, it is the assumption I start out with, and it may change when reading the question or followup comments. – Maarten Bodewes Oct 11 at 13:01
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    It was probably dropped because SE doesn't assume good faith when dealing with the community. – Anne Daunted Oct 11 at 13:10
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    @KateGregory - I have seen that happen, too – usually when the person was overreacting. – J.R. Oct 11 at 14:00
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    @KateGregory: I have always assumed good faith, and it has always been the right choice for me. I think it is also an essential part of any healthy human community. – Cerberus Oct 11 at 16:37
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    @KateGregory What do the points in this comment have to do with assuming good faith? The points in isolation seem unobjectionable to me (more or less; as is usually the case with remarks about interpersonal matters, there's plenty of room for interpretation), but as far as I can tell not a single one of them is even loosely related to whether we presume people have good intentions or not. – Mark Amery Oct 15 at 12:01
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    I'm a little offended by that - I believe that if someone is being abused in any way action should be taken but that's no reason to assume everyone acts in poor faith, or to codify that it should be so. Its also, quite frankly, a really nice, simple way to demonstrate that the community is listened to. – Journeyman Geek Oct 15 at 12:28

10 Answers 10

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This was always the most beautiful part of what we've been trying to build here for the past decade or more. It reminded us to always try for a charitable interpretation and not jump to conclusions. It helped us put things in perspective and talk to people instead of just branding them as evil.

Please put it back. This is the single most effective way of ensuring an inclusive environment: assume good faith! It's simple, catchy and a principle we should all live by in our everyday lives.

The world entire, let alone SE, would be a better place if we all remembered to assume good faith. Removing this from the CoC can only make things worse.

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    They really are words to live by. Even if I often forget, they come to me eventually, internally or externally. – anongoodnurse Oct 11 at 0:47
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    Sadly, "assuming good faith" is entirely incompatible with "if you use the generic 'he' you are being deliberately offensive." – Wildcard Oct 11 at 19:39
  • Nah, leave it off the CoC. They clearly know that they're making it impossible for users to assume good intent on SE's part, and nobody wants to turn the entire user base into CoC violators. – Mehrdad Oct 12 at 1:02
127

Yes, we should put "assume good intentions" back. To give some background, I quote from Gilles's excellent answer about the changes to the policy:

The old “be nice” policy told us to

Be welcoming, be patient, and assume good intentions.

This was an instance of the “assume good faith” guideline that many inclusive communities live by. The new code of conduct tells us to

be patient and welcoming

but “assume good faith” has disappeared. We are increasingly encouraged to take offense, whether offense was meant or not. Today's change additionally tells us

don’t use language that might offend or alienate

You're guilty even if you did not mean any offense. You're guilty even if nobody takes offense! You're guilty if someone might take offense.

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    It encourages people not even involved to get offended on behalf of others. "In my opinion your language can offend $minority so you need to change it" – Sklivvz Oct 11 at 1:11
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    I presume this answer was written in good faith. +1 – SecretAgentMan Oct 11 at 1:29
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    @SecretAgentMan: No, I secretly wrote it in a bad way so as to discredit this question. – Cerberus Oct 11 at 1:56
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    @Cerberus you sneaky, you. – marcellothearcane Oct 11 at 11:01
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Do not be quick to take offense...
Ecclesiastes 7:9

Also, do not take to heart every word that people say...
Ecclesiastes 7:21

My interpretation of this ancient advice is that we should assume good intentions. I agree with this advice and agree that it should be added back to the CoC.

32

I not only want to echo the sentiments of those who want this phrasing restored, but I would also like to elevate Ben Kovitz's comment on a different post:

@KateGregory Properly it should be "Presume good faith", i.e. assume it until demonstrated otherwise. You are quite right that trolls abuse the assumption of good faith—and they should be run out of town precisely because trust and good faith are so essential to community. – Ben Kovitz 9 hours ago

I'd also point out a Lexico post about the differences between assume and presume. I concur with the idea that we should "presume good faith" - I believe it to be true that most people will act in good faith. If you take a random sampling of the world, the probability will be that a person won't be a troll or other malicious actor and therefore we should treat them as such until there is evidence otherwise.

Also, if I was going to put it somewhere, I'd put it right in the "Our Expectations" box:

Presume good faith.

Don't jump to conclusions about other people. Mistakes happen and can often be corrected with reminders.

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Stack Exchange is long past "good intent". It seems clear that the company is refusing to accept that they did anything wrong by retweeting this.

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I couldn't agree more. We need this.

A barrel full of pure AGF

And while we're at it, please also put back friendliness and kindness that have been stripped out of the new CoC. The terms are used and explained in the lower sections, they should stay in the summary on top. In contrast, nobody really knows what "being inclusive" means, it's just as unclear as "welcoming". Let's just say

Be kind, friendly and respectful.

15

Morality/Thought/Speech/Grammar Policing

The new CoC specifically has a police the community and report them, Q4: What should I do if I see someone using the wrong pronouns? as a goal.

Why would you think that they would put assume good intent into something that specifically promotes Night Watch mentality.

Nightwatch was established to recruit ordinary citizens, including local law enforcement, and encourage them to uncover and report on what were perceived to be "subversive" activities. Nightwatch began by offering extra credits to various people to be their eyes and ears.

It is only time before reporting CoC violations earns you badges or even rep.

  • I have to upvote this answer to highlight the fact, sadly, this answer might point out something that might happen. After all it is incredibly difficult, to write an answer that is helpful, right? – Ramhound Oct 11 at 18:58
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    There are badges for flagging now. Essentially all flagging is "reporting CoC violations." When someone posts a "question" that is trying to sell love spells, when an "answer" is nothing more than abuse to the user who posted the question, when a comment is a joke that hurts others, we flag. (Yes, we also flag for things that are not violations, like "should be closed" when you don't have close votes yet, "not an answer" for a question posted as an answer, etc.) Nobody thinks this is a terrible police state thing. We think that's how flagging works. – Kate Gregory Oct 12 at 19:00
  • For a second I thought this had something to do with Ankh-Morpork and got terribly confused. – Mena Oct 16 at 14:56
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Recently I was at a talk where the speaker, who was confident and funny, made a tiny little aside, just a few words long, that suggested, well let's say it was members of a particular profession or people who used a particular programming language or people who lived in a particular place, were somehow less than "us". It was nothing big, nothing to object to, the talk went on.

Then a few sentences later, the same comment, but this time a little bigger, a little more detailed, embroidered, harder to miss. A recurring joke, but now with more sting. Someone DMed me "those kinds of jokes are not ok." While I was agreeing with the DM, an even stronger version of the joke, really obvious and cringey now. And finally a fourth time before the talk was over. Complaints were made.

I've talked with a lot of people since about why I didn't Do Something at the first joke. Put up my hand and say "I don't think we need that, do we?" But you see, the first joke was really mild. If you correct someone when they've done something really mild, you're a snowflake who is just looking for offense and can't you just assume people mean well? If you let it go, for some people that is all they were going to say and that's an end to it. But for some people, they are emboldened - they hear the laughter, everything is going well, so they turn it up a little. And if you step in now you're still going to have people tell you that you're too sensitive. If you leave it until they say something that is clearly outrageous and upsetting, well now people are fine with you taking action but the people who would be hurt by it have been hurt. You didn't protect them.

Which brings me to this whole assume or presume good faith thing. It is one strategy a community can use when setting up codes of conduct and similar Rules. It's important in an international community like ours to understand that some people may be working in their second (or 5th) language, may live in a place with different attitudes to gender and to inclusiveness, may be operating under constraints we don't know about. That's true. It doesn't mean it's ok for them to do things against the CoC though. It just means they should be corrected rather than punished. For example, a post that misgenders someone should be edited -- whether it did so knowingly or not. You can't leave it uncorrected just because the poster didn't mean to offend, didn't know any better, doesn't have pronouns like that in their first language, or even doesn't believe that someone's gender is what they say it is. (And note, comments are only editable by mods, or the OP for 5 minutes, and typically it is comments that mention one user to another: "Did you try Kate's suggestion? He's usually right" sort of thing.) When a CoC violation can just be edited out, that's what should happen. Any issue of intent is irrelevant.

But of course not all CoC violations are honest mistakes. The internet is full of people wringing their hands about decent, honest, hard working folk who accidentally offend a snowflake and suffer terrible retribution. I care far more about decent, honest, hardworking folks who wanted to understand their error message but instead got a dose of exclusion, othering, or unwanted religious advice. We're so busy pretending that it's fine to be cruel to people as long as you didn't do it on purpose or didn't know any better, that we forget what happens to people who read this stuff. Where is the good intent for them? We're having giant debates all over meta where apparently it's now cool to explain how your religion says you can't recognize trans people as who they are because that would mean God made a mistake. Why are we doing that? How is that making the internet better?

And then there are the trolls. Trolls love places that tell us all to assume or presume good faith and intent. They love riding the very edge of appearing polite while actually being cruel as can be. They're "just asking". They imply that people's pain is nonexistent or unimportant or both. They demand proof over and over. They keep saying things like "don't you want to learn from people who disagree with you?" and "surely we're all here to grow and learn" and "but you have to respect my beliefs if you want me to respect your beliefs" and all kinds of polite and reasonable sounding things. Sandwiched in with "but we all know women just don't like programming the way men do" or "you can't force me to say God is wrong" or "marriage should only be between a man and a woman" or just misgendering someone on purpose to be mean.

It sounds great, lets assume the best of people and not be quick to take offense. Let's give people a break and look past their words to what they said and all work together to understand this error message. It sounds great. But in practice it means that people who feel hurt and excluded, who feel that every day someone tells them they don't belong in their profession, are told to "suck it up" and "look past that" because surely the person didn't mean to offend you. Well who cares? They did. Do something about it. Edit the "mistake" or the deliberate cruelty away, show the person "you do belong here and we won't let people talk to you like that." Stand up for people who are being hurt instead of for people who are hurting, whether accidentally or on purpose. (You don't have to punish those who are hurting people, just stop leaving their stuff there because they didn't know any better.) Quit defending offensive material because it was probably done in good faith.

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    I think there is a disconnect here. Assuming good faith does not mean (to me at least, please correct if there is some other definition) we can not correct mistakes. It does not mean we always assume people are good even if its their 15th troll attempt. It doesn't mean we have to take obvious crap. It just means we don't whip out the ban hammer the first time we see something we take offense to (unless its something really bad). I want to restate a question from my previous question: If we do not assume good intent, what is our default stance? Do we assume bad intent? – David Grinberg Oct 11 at 14:36
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    When I complain about small things (in case they are the first step in an escalation) I am often told not to look for offense, to ignore it, and so on. It is not corrected either. Generally the reason I am supposed to let it slide is because "the person didn't mean it" is taken as the default until there is very strong proof otherwise. I argue that "the person didn't mean it" is a good argument against punishment, but not against fixing it and not against telling the person it is wrong. These paeans to a love filled past where we all got along and no-one looked for offense are wrong. – Kate Gregory Oct 11 at 14:46
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    I suppose there is our disconnect reiterated. As I mentioned, I don't believe assume good faith precludes fixing. If you see something wrong you should be free to raise it as an issue, and if people agree it should be fixed. – David Grinberg Oct 11 at 14:50
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    +1 for this: "I care far more about decent, honest, hardworking folks who wanted to understand their error message but instead got a dose of exclusion, othering, or unwanted religious advice." The people for whom pronouns matter have been subjected to violent attacks on account of how they identify. I think being a bit uncomfortable with learning a new way to communicate is a small price to pay to help these historically unwelcome people catch a break. – LShaver Oct 11 at 20:17
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    "When a CoC violation can just be edited out, that's what should happen. Any issue of intent is irrelevant." Absolutely! All we're saying here is that we shouldn't immediately presume bad intent. That does not mean excusing anything, it just means that our first recourse to anything objectionable should be an attempt to educate and not to chastise. It doesn't mean minor things should be ignored, only that we shouldn't immediately jump to the least charitable interpretation of a comment. Trust, but verify, in essence. – terdon Oct 12 at 18:15
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    @terdon I am not surprised that is what you're saying. But it isn't what a lot of people are saying and have said. I have first hand experience with "assume good intent" being 1:1 translated to "don't complain; they probably had no intention to hurt you" and the content stays, in some cases if the complaint is hotly worded the complaint goes. If anyone considers putting "assume good intent" back into a CoC they need to be really clear that good intent doesn't make offensive content inoffensive, and there is not an expectation of "letting stuff go" on those who it hurts. – Kate Gregory Oct 12 at 19:07
  • THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU I cannot thank you enough. Eloquently put and perfectly articulating what happens over and over in polite society - which can lead to death by 1000 paper cuts or in places like Ethiopia - plane slaying of your neighbour if the social and political climate is ripe. – Yvette Colomb 2 days ago
  • @KateGregory if only the first joke had been made, and it had not been escalated, would there have been a need to correct it? Would it have been appropriate to stand up and loudly interrupt? Only with hindsight it became problematic, and it would be unfair to assume every person who made the first joke would go on to make the last one. – OrangeDog 2 days ago
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    @OrangeDog I know. That's why I didn't say anything. But whenever you decide something is over a line and you're going to say something, there will be someone who says you're being too sensitive and looking for offense. And someone else who says "relax, it was just a joke, no-one was trying to hurt anyone" and the content stays. It sounds warm and lovely to say "assume good intent" but it leads to things like meta.stackexchange.com/questions/335701/… -- trolling while claiming to be polite. – Kate Gregory 2 days ago
  • @KateGregory Ok, then it's not really clear how the anecdote relates to the conclusion. I came away with the impression you were advocating zero-tolerance for any content that could be perceived as offensive (which taken to its logical conclusion, is all content) – OrangeDog 2 days ago
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    @OrangeDog my point is that content doesn't stand alone. You decide based not just on what you're reading but on what came before. And no matter how you decide, someone will say you're being too sensitive. Someone will say you're looking for offense. Someone will say be nice. But leaving offensive stuff around isn't nice. Others have to read it. Punishing people for saying bad stuff is separate from clearing bad stuff away yet many people defend bad stuff and want it left in place because we should assume they meant well. I argue against this. – Kate Gregory 2 days ago
  • Excellent post. Let me note an observation about the "trolls" complaint in the next to last paragraph. Can't argue with the negative impact of what people say, but it would be inaccurate to characterize it all as using the opportunity to work in a little hurtful language. People on both sides of the issue minimize and dismiss the other position. It leaves people feeling that they need to explain why the issue is what it is for them. I think most people are looking for ways to interact constructively despite the differences, but people can't appreciate what it means to the other side (cont'd) – fixer1234 2 days ago
  • without understanding the what and why that makes it important. We don't want to dwell on the aspects of the other side that we find offensive, and talking about those can be uncomfortable. But there is still a certain amount of education that's important for understanding. A person making a conscious effort to treat you with respect despite the conflict with their own beliefs is meaningful in its own right. I'm not sure there's an easy, painless solution. Absolutely, there are trolls, but it's not all trolling. – fixer1234 2 days ago
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It doesn't belong there because it doesn't (currently) apply. Unfortunately.

A CoC covers all interaction on the sites, including ineractions between the company and the users

If all the new CoC was about was "Don't insult people by means of pronouns", there wouldn't be a problem - a vast majority of the community is on board with "Don't insult people", which already covers the same thing.

The problem with the CoC is that the community presumes bad intent on the part of SE, mainly (but not exclusively) due to the whole Monica thing. And SE presumes bad intent on the part of the community, as can be seen for example by Sara's tweet where she thanks highly respected and deeply invested power users for leaving in protest of SE's actions.

In the context of the current lack of mutual trust, and considering that the CoC is dictated by one side to the other rather than built in collaboration, requiring that users presume good faith - or else! - would be pouring gasoline onto an open fire.

Unless it comes with a significant (and desperately needed) culture shift, adding "presume good intent" would just be a pointless phrase devoid of meaning.

0

Intent is not the only factor when considering bad behavior. Effect is just as important. If my behavior causes the effect of creating an unwelcoming environment, that effect is felt regardless of whether or not my intention was good. Many communities use this sort of "intent or effect" language in their codes of conduct all the time for good reason.

One essay that I end up coming back to again and again is WP:SPADE. Multiple communities I'm involved in are having this exact discussion, so that's kind of why.

Good faith is often used by bad actors as a shield. I'm not behaving badly and how dare you accuse me of that because you should be assuming good faith. I'm not being disrespectful to people, I'm merely Asking Questions.

At the end of the day, the rule of thumb I use is as follows: assume good faith, but know when you're being bullshitted.

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