Dealing with low quality observations and inappropriate content on iNaturalist


This weekend is the City Nature Challenge 2019 (CNC), a bioblitz in urban areas around the world. With over 160 cities participating this year, iNat is about to explode with a flurry of activity. The observation period is this Friday, April 26th through Monday, April 29th.

Graph of observations on iNaturalist from 2017–now…that peak in the middle is last year’s CNC, and look where we are already on the Tuesday before.

Because there will be so many new users, and a lot of young naturalists, they may not yet realize that iNaturalist is a valued resource used by land managers, researchers, organizations, etc. and treat it more like any other social media site. They may not even know that what they’re posting is being viewed by anyone but themselves, or their friends, much less the public. So here are a few tips and common responses to issues that come up very frequently during these types of bioblitzes that bring in a lot of new users.

Bookmark this page: common responses to inappropriate content & other frequent issues, which include:

Besides adding identifications, one of the most helpful things you can do is to mark captive animals and planted plants as “not wild”, if they weren’t already. You can also let the users know that they should check the captive/cultivated box before uploading (see prepared response above). Only mark observations as “not wild” if you are confident that is the case.

As you can see in the screenshot above, you can also use the Data Quality Assessment section (at the bottom of each observation) to mark observations as not containing an organism at all, a clearly incorrect location or date, etc.

Identify humans as humans. Observations of humans are automatically casual grade and hidden from most areas of the site by default. There is no need to flag observations as humans unless there is some sort of grossly inappropriate content involved. A small number of observations of humans is totally fine. Pictures of pets, humans, abiotic phenomena, or obvious test observations are all okay, unless that’s all someone is uploading. You can politely request they focus on wild organisms, and if they continue to add irrelevant content, you can flag one of the observations for a curator or staff person to take a look.

You can flag an image as copyright infringement which will replace it with a big “COPYRIGHTED MEDIA REMOVED” image and marks the observation as “casual grade.” You can flag the photo directly by clicking the “i” (white circle) below the photo and clicking “Flag this photo” in the very bottom righthand corner of that page. Then choose “copyright infringement” in the pop-up and save.*

If you see something inappropriate and aren’t able to address it yourself, you can always flag the offending content (ID, observation, comment, and/or photo). A curator or site staff can take a look and hopefully find a resolution. Some people do need to be suspended right away; check out the Community Guidelines for some of the potentially suspendable offenses vs. what is generally okay. One special case is trolling, which see the Curator Guide for more information on how to respond (or not!!) to trolls.

Curators, I use these boilerplate responses to flags frequently. When in doubt, or if something is extremely inappropriate and should be deleted immediately, you can always email

Woof. In short: Assume good faith. Be polite when addressing issues. Take a break from identifying if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Check the Community Guidelines, Curator Guide, Help page, and ask if you have any questions.

Want to avoid seeing this type of content as much as possible? Use the filters on Identify to exclude the dates of this week/weekend, only show content from users who made their account more than a week ago, or limit your searches to places outside of the CNC areas. Learn more about using the filters on the Identify page and special search URL modification.


Are there strategies for dealing with bioblitzes?
Filtering out a particular user?
What to do about observations that don't help iNaturalist's mission?

woof? as in :dog2::poodle:?


This is really helpful. Do you think it might be a good idea to provide a link to the Frequently Used Responses in a News item on the blog ahead of the start of the CNC? I think a lot of people might already have their iNat accounts set up (such as university students), and these suggestions might be better absorbed without the clock having already started to run. Sort of a Get Ready and Have Fun message?


Excellent! Thank you!

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Is there a canned response for “identified as plant from different continent?” I keep suggesting that people should check the geographic distribution of what they suggest as ID, and ctrl-c/ctrl-v would save me a few keystrokes.

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I used to have a “bad computer vision suggestion” template but I’ve still never settled on a good response that doesn’t then frequently generate disgruntlement pointed in my direction…

If I do add an explanation, I usually use specifics, like “looks like speciesX is only found on continentY”, and people learn themselves that the computer vision suggestions can be off. But in most cases I just add an ID and move on.

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Thanks for this great post, @bouteloua! We’ve done a ton of work with all the City Nature Challenge organizers to help them pass along to their local CNC participants the best ways to be good members of iNaturalist and good data stewards, but we all know it can be hard to convey all the intricacies of iNat to people you might not be talking to in person. Your post gives a lot of great information and guidance on how to help new users who are excited to be participating but might not understand all the nuances. Thanks again!


One other thing to remember is a very high percentage of CNC users will be using the app, where seeing comments and messages is much more difficult than for website users. So dont be surprised or put off by not getting a reply.


Is it really worth making the comments before the CNC is over then?


Understood, and thanks.


What are the default email notification settings? I know email notifications are usually among the first settings I change when I make a new website account, but perhaps a summary of updates on observations from the first week after observations are made on an account would be beneficial for telling people that there is activity happening on their observations.

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Many thanks for all the suggestions.
by the way… who are the organizers of the European bioblitzs, ot, at least, of the Italian ones? It coud be useful to get in touch with them in order to review all the guidelines.

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More information for each city is listed on the CNC website:

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I may have the facts wrong here, but isn’t there a downside to getting observations into “casual” during the CNC? As I understand it, the CNC is all about numbers of observations and numbers of species–Research Grade doesn’t have anything to do with it–one ID in an observation can raise the species number. Captive/cultivated organisms are counted the same as non-captive/non-cultivated. Marking them non-wild too early or putting them in “casual” for having photos of multiple organisms would seem to decrease their chances of being corrected as to ID. So isn’t the best way to run this fairly during the the CNC to focus primarily on getting the IDs right and not on putting a lot of observations in the “casual” bin instead of the “Needs ID” bin so that they have less of a chance of being correctly ID’d? Am I totally off base here?

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Observations should be marked as captive/cultivated before they’re uploaded at all. Whether the identification is correct is a separate topic. If people want to help with identifying non-wild observations, they can select that option in the Identify page filters.


I know. I just didn’t see many people trying to correct non-wild organisms in the “casual” bin last year for the particular city I was watching.

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New users get emails about basically everything, so if they don’t catch it in the app, they should get a summary email later listing recent IDs, comments, etc.


Yes, they should should get a daily email summary that usually comes in the early morning, California time.


I wish there was a way to flag a photo because the quality is so bad it shouldn’t even be on Inat. I’ve seen observations that make cave paintings look like High Definition.


That’s what the No, it’s as good as it can be DQA tag is good for. Although it’s also good to keep on mind that just because I can’t id a particular picture doesn’t mean that nobody can.