On the proposal to have well defined limitations on assuming good faith to mitigate trolling/vandalism

My proposal is to add limitations to “good faith” by using a similar approach from Wikipedia:Assume good faith - Wikipedia . The first paragraph is the following:

Assuming good faith (AGF) is a fundamental principle on Wikipedia. It is the assumption that editors’ edits and comments are made in good faith – that is, the assumption that people are not deliberately trying to hurt Wikipedia, even when their actions are harmful. Most people try to help the project, not hurt it. If this were untrue, a project like Wikipedia would be doomed from the beginning. This guideline does not require that editors continue to assume good faith in the presence of obvious evidence to the contrary (e.g. vandalism). Nor does assuming good faith prohibit discussion and criticism, as even editors who try to improve Wikipedia may not have the information or skills necessary to succeed in their good-faith goals. Rather, editors should not attribute the actions being criticized to malice unless there is specific evidence of such.


Status Quo

In the OSM Etiquette Guidelines (Etiquette/Etiquette Guidelines - OpenStreetMap Wiki):

Act in good faith. It is surprisingly easy to misunderstand each other, whether online or in person, particularly in such a culturally and linguistically diverse setting as OpenStreetMap. Misunderstandings can easily arise when we are debating topics or when we are in a rush or distracted. Please ask the other person to explain before assuming that a communication was inappropriate or not made in good faith

Note: In my opinion, the new version still better than the mere “Assume good faith” (too vague, not enforceable) from the Etiquette - OpenStreetMap Foundation.

The problem

There is a loophole already explored in the wild: anyone can keep saying they are acting in “good faith” regardless of any evidence (no matter how obvious) of the contrary.

Wikipedia’s approach on good faith is quite similar including the importance of being welcoming. The problem is the OSM Etiquette Guidelines not only don’t consider issues such as intentional vandalism (which tends to be small proportion, more likely to be user mistake), but force others to ignore actions indefinitely, no matter how obvious.

Apologies if I am missing some background here, but are you referring to vandalism of OSM map data (e.g. adding fictional features to the map)? Or to vandalism of this forum or other communication channels? Perhaps an example would be helpful of the kind of action you have in mind, and why you feel the etiquette guidelines prevent it from being dealt with.


With regard to “intentional vandalism” the relevant OSM policy is this one which, after saying “… treat mappers with respect, give them time to respond, and issue blocks sparingly”, contains this:

No such respect is afforded to accounts though which clearly have been created with the sole purpose of vandalizing OSM (e.g. writing expletives all over the map); such accounts may be blocked or banned without further ado.

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Are you complaining about What happens if let others keep sponsoring *against* OpenStreetMap? - #11 by nukeador ?

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The Etiquette Guidelines don’t require, or ask, that you assume that someone is acting in good faith. It requires that person act in good faith.

I agree with your recommendation, that a blanket “assume good faith” rule has problems. But since that rule isn’t in that EG, I don’t think there is anything to change.

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I’m not a big fan of AGF rules myself because they are often used as sticks to beat people over the head with. That said, there is a general and very large lack of good faith on the side of a lot users when they interact with others. In such cases there usually isn’t a single, specific, bad faithed action we could point to, but their behavior has an extremely corrosive effect on the project nonetheless. Personally, I think a “rule” (maybe more of a nice reminder) about assuming good faith would have merits in those types of situations.

Although I agree that a blanket “assume good faith” rule would have it problems, but that doesn’t mean something other then a blanket policy couldn’t work. Like I think the forum’s reminder when someone signs up to focus on the content of a message, not the person who wrote it is an effective way to nudge people towards assuming good faith without it being overbearing or otherwise problematic. It mostly comes down to the implementation.

Okay, I will break it into two replies. The next one is more philosophical, and this one is more straight up the guts (sense: direct to the point).

When I said in the wild is to emphasize what happens beyond this discourse forum (even before the new Etiquette be more well known). And for vandalism, actually beyond what already comes into the Data Working Group, because vandals tend to already cause harm far months, if not years, before, so it is important to have ways to check early.

People with behavior considered vandalism can be not only new accounts or sock puppets accounts (e.g. accounts maintained by existing people), but also skilled members that can go rogue on their main account. And people with a name/history to keep (yet not interested in cooperating; this likely to happen with users that have even more edits than others) will try to adapt themselves to continue with the actions in the open. The far common case is vandalism on the map by natural persons, but this can happen in other parts of the project.

While I believe the new OSM Etiquetes Guidelines is better to newcomers (so is for the whole), by not limiting that good faith doesn’t apply with obvious evidences, it actually explains how to antagonize complaints by who is not new to the project; it restrict how moderators or existing members can discuss/investigate these specific cases in the open before escalate over time. The new one (which seems intended for miscommunication, so it really makes sense to ask the other person what it means) doesn’t consider the use when the discussion is about an action with evidence.

One loophole as example is that as long as the evidence itself doesn’t contain offensive language, if the criticized person decides to be assertive when called out in public, only what it says about facts, not the facts themselves, should to be considered. The problem really start when it happens again and again: trolling behavior can appeal to shut down any early-stage public comments for not-yet-so-obvious-harm and argument that is being harassed (e.g. move the forums from actions to as if they’re personal attacks) so it should be left alone.

On this aspect, even if not directly on the OSM Etiquetes Guidelines, I think still relevant either have references to other recommendations (such as mentioned by @SomeoneElse), or maybe have some addendum (e.g. link do different page) with discussed “what to do” with toy examples (not real cases) of misuse that actually deal with another areas (such as vandalism and trademark)

On the philosophical side, I will just put some links for some concepts, then discuss my proposals (also added a comment on “act in good faith”; I didn’t realize it at first).


Bona fides (good faith), mala fides (bad faith) & theory of mind

The bona fides concept is actually very relevant if trying to bootstrap some minimalist system of recommendations where humans interact. Even Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre discussed this topic.

Theory of Mind (which I will not talk much here) is mostly about how people think about what other people are thinking. In this case, the OSM Etiquetes Guidelines, by recommending questioning the other person first, and the general preface about possible miscommunications, is sort of implicitly giving practical hints for the person to discover the reasoning of another instead of assuming. This was very well done!

Comments about this context

Also, these examples also show that bad faith is not so simple. While good faith and bad faith both have “faith” in name, it’s actually beyond religious context.

Is possible to have bad faith without intentional deception

Most of the time bad faith involves deception. However, such deception can also be self-deception. This means that a person can act in bad faith with others, because it actually believes it (so it propagates something because it believes in that), but the way to differentiate from mere human error is it needs to have at least some level of denialism.

The self-deception is a fantastic area of human interaction, but to avoid overlong text, sufficient to say that very, very few humans are able to lie to others while 100% conscious, but average people need self-deception to sustain such beliefs while convincing others.

Is possible to have bad faith with deception at collective level

Bad faith can exist not just at individual level, but entire systems of knowledge. Pseudosciences (Racial eugenics, racial supremacists, etc) tend to be popular examples studied.

Human error

Bad faith and human error are different terms. If no one else is deceiving that person to propagate the situation and also there’s no self-deception, it’s not bad faith. It’s likely simple ignorance.

Is more likely in a context such as interactions on OpenStreetMap things be explainable as mere human error.


The rules themselves cannot be blamed by mere implementation issues. This distinction is important. So it makes sense to try to restrict what can lead to consistent use outside intended scope by average users and the general public really believe it’s okay based on current text, because (if this is plausible issue) would be the perfect recipe to make things snowball over years.

More comments on good faith not be limited on what other person says (the “we need limitations”)

In previous comments I made an overgeneralization that trolls could misuse the guidelines as if others were challenging some sort of hypothetical central “good faith” thinking. That limiting this would allow other’s discover earlier issues when individuals before escalation.

This is incomplete. Actually secondary.

As people always have different systems of beliefs (not necessarily religious; think like even ways to organize information), they may not be aware of this at all. However, for things that are common good around the OpenStreetMap project, if there’s a known loophole for people act as if is their personal space, they will have incentives for this against others trying to reach consensuses when not aligned with their own belief. This makes things complicated: at this point already would be bad faith (not mere error) and self-deception. So by continuing allowing public discussion (even if those who go rogue do not engage) at least allow them to be more near the shared reality.

In simple terms: discussions/criticisms also avoid escalation years later because it allows early self-moderation.

act in good faith is insufficient if the idea is ask people to try understand the other

Note: this only applies to the head term, not the entire sentence (which sort of actually explains the intent).

The way self-deception works means that the person in bad faith (not merely deceiving someone else, but itself) really believes that it believes are the good faith. The rest of the OSM Etiquetes Guidelines helps to enforce minimal moralism (e.g. what’s right and wrong) but the act in good faith doesn’t require understanding the other side.

That’s why I think act in good faith is insufficient because it is already likely to be what everyone in their heads are doing most of the time. Alternative to Wikipedia’s assume good faith then would be act in good faith and assume good faith, which by the way is the closest to original sense of bona fide (translation: in good faith; it’s bona fides without “s”) in ancient times: it was always assumed that simple (in) good faith was mutual.