|This page in a nutshell: Consensus is assumed when there's no evidence of disagreement.|
Qui tacet consentire videtur, ubi loqui debuit ac potuit (He who is silent, when he ought to have spoken and was able to, is taken to agree)
— Latin proverb
Consensus can be presumed to exist until disagreement becomes evident (typically through reverting or editing). You find out whether your edit has consensus when it sticks, is built upon by others, and most importantly when it is used or referred to by others.
Most of the time, you will find that it's fine to assume consensus, even if just for now, as it's more important to keep editing and cooperating smoothly in good faith as much as possible.
A corollary is that if you disagree, the onus is on you to say so.
In wiki-editing, it is difficult to get positive affirmation for your edits (disapproval comes with a further edit, or at times a revert). No matter how many people on a talk page say they support an edit, sometimes it is only when your changes are reverted or substantially changed that you learn that you did not, in fact, have full consensus.
Of course, it is impractical to wait forever for affirmation: in the meantime then, sometimes it is best to assume that silence implies consensus. You can continue to hold that assumption (hopefully safely) until someone comes along and changes the page by editing or reverting. The more visible the statement, and the longer it stands unchallenged, the stronger the implication of consensus is.
What does not constitute silence
The maxim is "Qui tacet consentit": the maxim of the law is "Silence gives consent". If therefore you wish to construe what my silence betokened, you must construe that I consented.
Unsurprisingly, one may run into a discussion between two editors with a dispute who keep repeating and reiterating their thoughts; sometimes this occurs because they are afraid that if they stop, their failure to respond will be misconstrued as a sign that they consent. This interpretation is based on the false assumption that "a huge unending row" is the only alternative to "silence". This is not the case. As far as the difference between dissent and silence is concerned, if you voice dissent, failure to make your dissent heated and continuous does not constitute silence and therefore does not constitute consent. Withdrawing from communication with a tendentious or quarrelsome editor does not give that editor consent to do what they like. Similarly, in the presence of a revert, there is neither silence nor consensus.
Silence is the weakest form of consensus
The problem with no response is that there are five possible interpretations:
- The post is correct, well-written information that needs no follow-up commentary. There's nothing more to say except "Yeah, what he said."
- The post is complete and utter nonsense, and no one wants to waste the energy or bandwidth to even point this out.
- No one read the post, for whatever reason.
- No one understood the post, but won't ask for clarification, for whatever reason.
- No one cares about the post, for whatever reason.
Bryan C. Warnock. Re: RFCs: two proposals for change -- Original description of the dilemma
Warnock's dilemma, named for its originator Bryan Warnock, is the problem of interpreting a lack of response to a posting on a mailing list, Usenet newsgroup, or Web forum. By extension, it could apply to a Wikipedia talk page discussion. It occurs because a lack of response does not necessarily imply that no one is interested in the topic, and could have any one of several different implications, some of which are contradictory.
Wikipedia is huge and our editors' time is limited. At any given time, there are many open discussions on many different topics across the project. We encourage our editors to be bold and it is highly likely that you will eventually find yourself affected by the outcome of some decision that you didn't know about, or didn't have the chance to join. Where a decision is based mostly on silence, it is especially important to remember that consensus can change.
Scope of application
Apply the rule of silence and consensus only when a weak consensus would suffice. Silence and consensus does not apply when either a strong consensus or a mandatory discussion is required. When real people are affected by a decision, such as blocking users, or using material covered by the biographies of living persons policy, positive confirmation is preferred. Even in these cases, however, dissent might show up later, and it is then no longer appropriate to assume consensus.
Essays on silence