Assume good faith

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"Assume good faith" is a motto oft used in collaborative work, suggesting that upon initial contact with another contributor it is best to assume that the other person is working in good faith. This initial working assumption may be changed by later events or experiences.

The principle is also the keystone of the leading strategy in a tournament of computer programs simulating The Prisoner's Dilemma.

Given the sinfulness of man, there are conservatives who take issue with the principle of reflexively assuming good faith in collaborative works. David Swindle writes at the conservative website FrontPage Magazine:

There was not a single ideological vision driving Wikipedia®’s founders and core contributors as they launched the project. Jimmy Wales​, who would become the face of the project and its “benevolent dictator,” according to Andrew Lih’s The Wikipedia Revolution​, is a libertarian and Ayn Rand​ian Objectivist. Also important in shaping Wikipedia was the so-called “hacker ethos,” the culture that has developed amongst computer programmers over the last 40 years and been shaped by the Left, the counterculture, popular culture, and anarchist thought.

What binds together these ideologies is a utopian ideal that human beings are more prone to altruism rather than self-interest. In Wikipedia Revolution Wales is quoted as saying, “Generally we find most people out there on the internet are good… It’s one of the wonderful humanitarian discoveries in Wikipeda, that most people only want to help us and build this free nonprofit, charitable resource.” Ward Cunningham was the programmer who created the wiki concept and software. According to Lih, he believed in the Wiki because “People are generally good.”

Lih explains how this philosophy is embedded within Wikipedia’s rules:

A core idea Wikipedia embraced.. was to assume good faith when interacting with others. The guideline promoted optimistic production rather than pessimistic nay-saying, and reads, “Unless there is strong evidence to the contrary, assume that people who work on the project are trying to help it, not hurt it; avoid accusing others of harmful motives without particularly strong evidence.

But as it worked out, Wikipedia in practice has strayed from these utopian ideas because of the ease with which political and social bias trumps altruism.

After almost a decade of rapid growth and free-wheeling experimentation the situation at the site by the Summer of 2009 was chaos. Political operatives would sabotage one another in electoral contests by vandalizing pages. More malicious misinformation filtered in freely, with living historical figures accused of involvement in conspiratorial plots.[1]