Allow for "blocking" of observations(/photos?) of a particular taxa

[From a quick search, this was neither currently possible nor already mentioned, but apologies if I missed something.]

I think it would be useful to be able to have the ability to add a setting to block observations of a particular taxa site-wide, or at least mask/hide the photos of that taxa (perhaps you could be able to click on the photo to reveal, but only after you know what you’re getting into). Potentially, I could also see the use case for blocking content with certain observation fields and/or tags.

I know it may seem silly/unnecessary, but phobias/intense fears of certain organisms are surprisingly common, and can cause intense and immediate fear and anxiety. Fear of animals is specifically covered in the DSM as a common manifestation of this anxiety disorder-- most often as fear of spiders or snakes. Studies vary on how many people are affected by animal phobias, but several studies seem to suggest around 5% of the population may be affected, with women having higher rates than men. I think adding this option would increase the site’s accessibility to people who may be affected by anxiety.

At first, I was going to create limit this request to the “Explore” page, but I feel that something site-wide would be more comprehensive-- potentially triggering material might come up on your homepage because someone you’re following may have posted it, or perhaps it may surface when looking at observations listed under a project, place, profile page; it could even surprise you on the log-in screen (don’t know how to avoid that one, though-- thoughts?). In “Explore”, although I know it is possible to add “&without_taxon_id=” to the url manually, this a) is very annoying to do every time if you’re just trying to browse your local area every now and again; b) requires you to know the taxon ID number, which I don’t think there’s any way of finding out without having to come face to face with the very thing you’re trying to avoid; and c) many users may not know about this since it isn’t well-integrated-- it does not seem to be one of the listed filter criteria, and I myself only found out about it by searching forum posts several times over. Honestly, the idea of observation search “filters” seems quite incomplete without being able to filter out something you don’t want to see!

[As a side note, I myself don’t have any true phobias of animals (that I know of!), and would honestly not have thought of the use case for blocking/hiding content until recently repeatedly coming across Braconid wasp larvae on hornworm caterpillars while browsing iNat. Photos of these parasites honestly make me feel physically ill and extremely uncomfortable. I am very fortunate in that a) it’s not strong enough of a reaction that it’s debilitating; and b) it’s relatively uncommon that these are posted, so it’s only rarely that it crops up. But it’s happened enough times that I would really love to be able to just browse in peace without feeling like I may get jolted if I’m not careful. It’s made me feel a lot more empathy for people who are deeply afraid of something more common, like spiders or snakes, which it would be very difficult to avoid on this site and may even deter many users from ever even considering joining.]

I agree, mostly.

I know that some people would probably say that if you want to be a naturalist, you will have to occasionally look at unpleasant things. And I don’t disagree. But lots of us use this site at different times. Honestly, sometimes I am just in the mood to look at flowers. Sometimes I might be browsing this site during lunch. And so there are certain things I would want to skip seeing, at times. I wasn’t actually thinking about taxa…I was mostly thinking about scat and dead animals. I mean, its not like I can’t deal with those things, and obviously I encounter them in real life, but sometimes I am just here to scan for the pleasant side of the outside world.

So I would agree that having settings for when we want a “lite” experience would make sense, especially if they could be turned off and on.

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Wait wait … this totally defeats the purpose of iNaturalist!

The purpose of iNaturalist is to connect people with nature - for the good of Citizen Science, which allows researchers and databases to use the observations for science’s advancements.

When I came into iNaturalist, I had a longtime fear of Wind Scorpions and Jerusalem Crickets, because I had bad associations with them from my childhood. iNaturalist has completely taken this fear away from me, and now I enjoy finding these species.

I have helped a handful of people already, mostly concerning snakes and spiders, to forget their fears and love these critters for what they really are! We need to help people conquer such phobias, and not promote them.

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Blacklisting would be a good feature to have. People need to be able to face their fears in their own time and encountering images that may be potentially “triggering” is not really likely to help them overcome said fears anyway. Plus I get that a lot of people can get squeamish when looking at roadkill for example. Personally im into taxidermy so I have a pretty strong stomach, but the majority of folks don’t, specially children or teenargers (of which I’ve seen plenty since iNaturalist is often used in school proyects).
Also, it would be nice to have a blacklist if you’re, for example, trying to look at exotic animals and keep finding tons of brown or black rat observations (God knows they are EVERYWHERE)

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very similar topic to here: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/is-a-photo-of-entrails-too-offensive-for-inaturalist/5465

and in particular several ideas raised as potential mitigators, I personally like the idea of marking as “potentially distressing content” and then allowing users to see a message and choose to show pictures, but only if it is an “opt in” scenario, we don’t want to make iNat difficult to use for the intended audience… also discussed is the notion that iNat is ABOUT this stuff… and anyone with a serious “trigger” from this stuff would surely be either avoiding iNat, or exposing themselves in a controlled way such as through a counsellor for exposure therapy. iNat is not something you just walk past on the street without any sort of warning, so it’s not in anyway encumbent on iNat to provision for controls… If the sign on the door says “nature stuff inside”, and you have a fear of some aspects of nature stuff, then enter with caution!

FWIW, I had a physical fear response to spiders and moths (the big lumpy ones that stick in your throat when you are a kid drinking the hot chocolate on a school camp and not realising it wasn’t just milk powder not mixed properly…) and via iNat I am now at a point where I can handle them with only minor flickers of anxiety…

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If only high, curving bridges had warning signs to that effect. I’ve had more than a few episodes of white-knuckle gripping the steering wheel and screaming out loud. Some people think that the Golden Gate Bridge is scenic; I think it’s terrifying.

This is not a simple issue. On one hand, we could say that the real world does not shield us from our phobias; but on the other, not everyone would necessarily guess at what is on iNaturalist until they have poked around a bit. If your main experience of nature is the bird feeder in your back garden, you might not be expecting to come upon a tarantula chowing down on a lizard.

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I get what you’re saying, but not everyone with a phobia is at the same stage of recovery, and for someone with a severe phobia, seeing a triggering image without warning could set them back even further. Exposure therapy is something that has to be done in a very controlled setting, not just coming across triggering content unexpectedly.

While you’re right that this website is important for connecting people with all kinds of nature, if someone has a very severe phobia then they may not feel comfortable using the site at all for fear of seeing something triggering. I would certainly rather people felt able to use iNat to some degree, even if they don’t look at everything on here, and I think a blacklisting feature would help that.

Also, having some kind of blacklist wouldn’t necessarily mean removing those images from people’s feed completely - other websites with blacklists simply make it so you are given a warning before seeing the post and can click if you want to proceed. This way people have control over what they see and don’t stumble across something unexpectedly, and if they’re at a point where they feel able to expose themselves to potentially triggering content, they can.

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Welcome to the forum @corvidaeus!

I have trypophobia, but I don’t want the site blocking all photos of lotus despite the fact that they are disturbing to me and cause me physical discomfort…ymmv

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We do get emails from people who ask if it’s possible block spiders, snakes, parasites, dead animals, etc when using iNat, so there’s definitely a use case for this. I can’t say if it’s technically feasible, but if it were, I think it would be worth exploring.

I have done years of outreach involving snakes and spiders (animals I’ve always loved and championed) and it was pretty great to see people who were initially afraid of them learn to at least fear them less (and sometimes learn to love them!), but they probably didn’t have a full-blown phobia. I used to treat these situations a bit cavalierly, but have recently come to terms that an anxiety which has affected me for most of my life is really a phobia. I now have a better appreciation of how debilitating they can be, and that everyone has their own tolerance level and pace of exposure, as @corvidaeus said.

@mira_l_b started a great convo about fear of spiders and iNat here, it’s definitely worth a read.

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On concern I would have is I can’t see any way to make an exclusion list 100% effective. If a user does not want to see dead animals, how many are there in the database not currently classified as dead. And between annotations and observation fields, how many different ways are there to mark a record as dead.

And how about the Identify screen, if a user is snake phobic, how do you deal with the snakes classed as Unknown?

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Absolutely true, and that would have to be made very clear to anyone setting up a block, that it can’t be guaranteed to catch everything. So if one trigger is one too many, they may just need to avoid the site.

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if the phobia is severe, that iNatter would need to avoid Unknown, for their own sake, by choice.

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If this were to be enabled I’d suggest that it be a temporary, not a permanent block.

You’d have to renew it every month or two (or whatever time period) and there would be several warning messages prior to when it ends so that you have the option of renewing it (eg: “your block on arachnids is ending soon, do you want to continue blocking this taxa Y/N?”).

This would allow the block to be put in place, but would also remind people that they’re making an active choice to ignore a branch of life and might help them overcome their phobias by gently asking them if they’re ready to start seeing some of the subjects of those phobias.

I’d also suggest that if it’s enabled a bold marker is put on the user’s home page (that they see, not anyone else), saying something like, “You have temporarily blocked X taxa from view.”

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I’m not sure I really see the point of such a feature - not only would it probably mean more work for the site staff to add, but it just feels like penalising people for blacklisting something. What if they miss the warning because they’re not a regular user or don’t always check their notifications? It just seems unnecessary when a simple block that you can turn on or off would be sufficient. Someone isn’t going to forget that they have a phobia of spiders, and I think it should be up to them when they decide they’re ready to try and confront that. It’s not really the place of a naturalist website to tell someone they need to try and overcome a psychological issue.

I do understand the sentiment of wanting people to engage with all types of nature, even species that are considered “gross” or “scary”, and certainly if someone wants to become a naturalist they will have to do that. But not everyone on iNat is a naturalist or aspires to be one, many are just casual users who maybe want to learn a bit more about nature and don’t feel like confronting their fears. That’s OK, and I would still rather they felt able to engage with the site to whatever extent they’re comfortable with than simply not use it at all.

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I think as long as it’s made clear to the user when setting up a blacklist that it won’t be able to block “unknowns” then people can decide for themselves if they’re willing to take that risk or not. Or as @dianastuder said, perhaps the feature could allow people to block anything marked as unknown as well, just to be safe.

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Great idea! I myself have had mild arachnophobia for the last 10+ years, mainly around small spiders with long legs like cellar spiders (going back to one-too-many unpleasant experiences with dead spiders and one particularly memorable incident when I saw about 20 dead craneflies all curled up on my windowsill as a kid. Ugh).

I do understand what some of the commenters above have been saying about how iNaturalist can help to overcome phobias. I’ve been making myself take pictures of spiders in my attempts to capture all aspects of nature and have found myself becoming gradually less revulsed by spiders. Recently I took a photo of a European Garden Spider (warning: spider) and I’ve now got to the point where I could look at the markings on its back and think that it’s actually quite beautiful.

But people have to choose to engage with their phobia, not have it forced onto them. I could even see it leading to increased anxiety around using iNaturalist for people with phobias, knowing the object of their phobia could suddenly pop up (I know I still get a bit tense searching through the Explore tab knowing I’ll likely see a spider at some point). A way to block observations of certain taxa would be great for that - with maybe an additional dialogue that asks if the user wants to see the observation anyway, should the user be in the right frame of mind and emotional state to confront their phobia.

I also see the value in being able to block certain tags (being able to filter out dead creatures, for example). After all, some of the gorier pictures I’ve viewed on here (dead animals, parasitic creatures, etc) may well help to engage some people with nature and to appreciate life in all its forms, but it’s not going to work for everyone and it will equally drive other people away.

As to the point that anyone with a phobia would surely be in therapy: not everyone can afford to go to therapy or prioritises treating their phobias (I know I’ve never bothered bringing up my phobias with the therapists I’ve seen, given that they’re mild compared to my other issues). I’m sure there’s plenty of iNaturalist users who aren’t interested in overcoming their phobias of certain animals (it’s a lot of hard work!) but who still want to be able to upload pictures of and identify the particular forms of wildlife they’re interested in. Simple exposure to the object of someone’s phobia won’t get rid of their phobia anyway - if that was the case, then my arachnophobia would be cured by now with the hundreds (if not thousands) of spiders I’ve seen over my lifetime!

Lastly I don’t think it’s for anyone to decide that someone with a phobia of particular animals can’t be a proper naturalist (or even assume that everyone using iNaturalist wants to be a naturalist - many users just want to be able to identify different organisms). People can overcome their phobias in their own time if that’s what they’re interested in. Meanwhile this suggestion would be a step in the right direction towards making iNaturalist a better experience for its users with phobias.

(I half-wrote up this reply up a few days ago and in that time @corvidaeus clearly expressed a lot of the things I was trying to say, but I’ll post this here anyway)

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So we discussed this and technically it’s probably not feasible. We suggest saving search URLs to avoid seeing observations of organisms you don’t want to see. See more about search URLs here: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/how-to-use-inaturalists-search-urls-wiki/63 So I’m going to close this thread.

A possible future solution would be to use crowdsourcing/machine learning to create more filters when searching.

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