I’ve recently started seeing more accounts on the site for governmental agencies looking to track occurrences on public lands or across the US (which is great!). However, one specific comment caught my eye: a request to add an observation for a vulnerable species (Plestiodon reynoldsi) to a project run by the USFWS to track endangered species. The comment specifically mentions joining the project so that the admins can see coordinates. I was interested, so I took a look at the project, which seems to be relatively new (<3 months old). There wasn’t any contact info for an actual person on the account (the account name is just fws-sdm), and the account has little activity (no observations, only 3 IDs).
To be clear, I have no idea if this particular account/project is legit or not. (Though both the original poster and I left comments asking if they could verify that the account was indeed run by USFWS 3 days ago and have yet had no response). However, It struck me that it would be quite easy to make a project like this and “impersonate” an agency (would probably take <5 min to download a few logos and set up). I’ve certainly seen herp folks go to more trouble to find good places for rare species! I know of a few other accounts running similar projects, like the FNAI and the US Federally Threatened and Endangered Species project which seems to duplicate the intent of the project mentioned above. Interestingly this project is really well documented and is administered by an iNat curator with an extensive history on the site. So I have a lot of confidence that it is legit! (though someone could always be playing a reeeaaaallly long con, I guess).
All of that intro is to say, I was wondering if, given the potentially high stakes (location info for vulnerable species) and for opportunity for impersonation, has this ever been a documented issue on iNat? If so, have any solutions ever been considered? The one that immediately sprung to my mind was some kind of “verified” account (like on Twitter). In this case at least, I could join a project and share coordinates with high confidence. Anyways, I was interested in hearing others’ thoughts and experiences on this.
NB: I didn’t make this a feature request (though maybe it could be in the future if people think it is worthwhile). I more just wanted to raise the issue.