Flag Erroneous Identifications

This idea was brought up in a different forum post by @dan_johnson, but I think it’s important enough to deserve its own discussion. This would potentially provide an enormous improvement to how identifications are made on iNaturalist and further support the role “experts” play on here.

The request: allow the identifications of users to be flagged, such that a flagged ID does not count towards the community ID.

This would immediately solve the issue of a single bad ID torpedoing the community ID and do away with the need to tag multiple users to clean up such observations. This is particularly important for taxa that don’t see a lot of engagement on here, where there might not be multiple people to come fix things (like, say, the groups I tend to work on).

Of course, this needs to be something that can be counteracted, so that the system isn’t abused. We don’t want well-meaning individuals or inexperienced users flagging good IDs. The way this can be done is to also allow flagging in the affirmative, as well as the negative. In the current iteration, I get a notification when someone adds a dissenting ID… the same could be done when someone flags an ID. That way, if the user disagrees with that flag, they could just vote against it via a little check box, just like with the various quality control checkboxes that lurk at the bottom of the observations.

I’d also suggest adding specific fields to provide detail as to why the ID is being flagged. Examples:

  • This taxon is not reliably identified from photos.
  • This observation does not provide enough detail for the ID.
  • This observation is outside the known geographic range of this taxon.
  • This observation is not in the correct habitat for this taxon.
  • This taxon is ambiguous or controversial.
  • Other.

That option for “ambiguous or controversial” taxa covers instances where a taxon is unrevised or full of widely misused synonyms, nomen nuda, nomen dubia, etc.

I think this provides a good compromise between encouraging the efforts of “experts”, while not overtly stifling the importance of community engagement. Most of the observations that would benefit from this are those that are taxonomically stuck due to inattention from the users. This is especially true for older observations. This problem will only grow as this site ages and more users permanently disappear. There needs to be a better solution than “tag more users”, and I think this is it.

I’m curious to hear what others think. Cheers.

An interesting proposal. Sounds like a good idea.


Not sure I understand.

I see an observation and someone has added an ID I think is wrong. I then flag it as wrong. As a result the “wrong” ID doesn’t count for the community ID.

I understand the idea, but it seems to go against the whole idea of the community ID. I’ve always seen this as a democratic way to reach an ID. To me, what you’re suggesting comes down to disqualifying people from taking part in the discussion. There’s also a risk of antagonizing people or driving them away. Don’t forget iNat is supposed to be citizen science project.

You are mainly concerned about beginners or people who don’t know enough to make a valid ID.
I think adding a message (with a button) such as “An expert has entered a different ID, please consider changing or withdrawing your ID” would be more useful and would invite more discussion and learning opportunities.


I’d much rather an option to somehow broadcast your observation for others to see it and help ID it. The ability to nullify somebody else’s ID would surely be abused.


The ability to flag IDs already exists.
Personally, I’ve only used it once or twice, when people doubled-down on posting joke IDs after being asked to stop.


iNat works on the basis of Community ID, an identification that is “calculated” as a fair representation of what the community thinks it is. Where there is dissention on the ID, then either majority rules out or dialog ensues that educates and reaches concensus regarding the IDs.

There is no such thing as an erroneous identification, in so far as it is what the identifier believes it to be. But there are times when there is dialogue that should in theory be sufficient to persuade a participant on an observation to change their ID, but they don’t. Often this might be because they are absentee, and so didn’t even see the conversation! Then there are those that are new to the platform, and just don’t understand that they need to change their ID to reflect their new understanding, but there can also be times when an identifier is just flat out defiant.

The current flagging ability is for malicious IDs, or inappropriate use of IDs such as jokes and bullying. Someone identifying a house cat as a tiger is not neccesarily being malicious with their IDs either, they might genuinely believe that it is a tiger cub… but if you raise it with them and they state it was a joke, then you would point out that it is not appropriate to make joke IDs, and that that humour is best kept to comments… and if they continue to make such joke IDs, then it becomes appropriate to flag the IDs.

I think there is definitely a place for challenging an ID and potentially making it in-effective towards CID. I raised it again here: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/unexpected-expected-explict-disagreement-to-previous-id-affects-following-ids/14789/9

Particularly in the case of absentee identifiers, I can see this as being very beneficial for the community, but it could potentially be abused, so would need to be thought out and tested carefully.

…and yes, I spelt dialog/ue both ways, because both are right!


i think this used to exist (before my time as an iNat member), but the functionality was taken away at some point. if what i’m saying is true, maybe some old-timers can provide some insight into what happened there.



“Needs ID” used to be a flag you could set, and your observation would appear in the “Needs ID” page. It was changed to what we have now, where everything is “Needs ID” and you have to work to get it out of that page!

[oh no… I’m an old-timer!]


A couple of times I’ve met people insisting that they can ID a certain species even if they are wrong. Given them the ability to flag an ID as you proposed (even that one of an expert) does not sound very promising.


I dont like this idea, it effectively gives a user 2 votes. One with their identification, and a 2nd to nullify someone else’s vote.

If this approach is to be adopted, why complicate it, just weight expert id’s higher or ban amateurs from making id’s as has been proposed over and over (which I am not endorsing or calling for). This is just the same approach done slightly differently.


What I’m advocating for here is a way to address identifiers who are not actively engaging in the community ID process. If you leave an ID and then never respond to further inquiries, that is not a “community” ID—that’s an opinion left for others to deal with. And these sorts of users tend to be the one’s who are least qualified to make such IDs.

A system like I’ve proposed is hopefully a reasonable compromise between the need for experts to be able to meaningfully weigh in with their expertise, while still respecting the community ethos here. If a user can’t respond to a critique of their ID, then it should be disqualified, as it is no longer part of the community.


How is that any different, in practice, from an active user who is just stubborn?

re: “that is not a ‘community’ ID”
Yes, but only because no one ID is a community ID.
Community ID is not the ID of someone who engages with the community.
Community ID is the consensus of 2/3 of identifiers. Whether that’s an easy case of just 2 IDs that make an observation RG or several people overturning a bunch of one-and-done duress users who never return to the platform, it requires multiple people.


In my experience, this isn’t a common problem, but I specialize in groups that don’t see much engagement on here. Perhaps it’s more of an issue with birders or lepidopterists, where there’s a larger community. Anyways, I have no issue with a “stubborn” user who is able to defend their opinion.

Says who? I would argue that an ID without actual community engagement is the antithesis of a community ID. I always take the time to respond to any questions raised concerning my IDs. I don’t think it’s asking much for other users to do the same. My proposal seeks to address a very practical issue regarding how older misidentifications are addressed on this site, and this is an issue that will only continue to grow in importance.

But no single ID is a community ID, regardless of whether the user engages or not.

Even if there’s only 1 ID on an observation, it’s 1 ID that counts towards community ID, not the community ID itself.

Eg. Here’s an observation where I am the only Identifier; notice there is no community ID (and it specifically says there must be 2 IDs):

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besides the potential for abuse, vetoing someone else’s ID just feels disrespectful to me. it’s one thing make a disagreeing ID – we can disagree respectfully – but it just feels wrong to take away someone else’s vote because it’s inconvenient. that’s basically disenfranchisement.

there have been lots of threads recently that are effectively trying to shift the balance of power to “experts”, and i think that’s ultimately just the wrong path. if the number of observations in iNaturalist continues to grow the way it has, it’s going to overwhelm even the best efforts of the best experts at some point. so while i love that experts are actively participating in iNaturalist, and i wouldn’t want to discourage experts from participating, i just think experts have to think about the best way to participate in the face of the explosive growth in observations.

@pfau_tarleton said it a little more elegantly in another thread:


@star3 the flag you suggest are more for egregious behavior that requires site curators to get involved. The suggested flags here are more for reasons states in the original post.

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In the post where I suggested the idea of challenging IDs, I framed it as a way of asking “are you sure you want to hold that position?”, with an opportunity to respond “yes I do” by way of clearing the challenge flag within a timeframe before the effect of the challenge impacts. That effectively makes the challenge only work against the already disenfranchised, and perhaps even gives them a reason to re-engage or at least pop back in from time to time to deal with any challenges before they take effect (particularly in the case of 12 or 1 month timers for auto-withdrawals of IDs)

I envisage it only for times when there is clearly an absentee identifier, but of course people will use it inappropriately to “push” their position, but then they do that anyway with the brigading…

I am for the idea, but only if it is implemented with a great deal of caution and explanation of how and when to use it, and certainly needs a great deal of thought and design regarding potential abuse

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I completely agree. There’s no reason that a change like this needs to be construed as “disenfranchising” or “undemocratic”. Framing it this manner is disingenuous. What I’m advocating for is a way to more actively encourage dialogue and arrive at a true community ID from those of us most engaged in the process. If you’re not taking part in that dialogue, then you’re by definition no longer engaging in the community. This is a call for more civic engagement on iNaturalist, not less.

here’s an extreme hypothetical case:

suppose Joe goes observing and finds a particular extremely rare worm that is super difficult to ID without some microscopy. he takes an initial photo, sets up his microscope and sees the feature that he’s looking for, but he’s not able to take a photo of what he sees in the microscope before he accidentally disturbs the web of a super venomous spider, which envenomates Joe, giving him just moments to live. in those final moments, Joe uploads the photo of the extremely rare worm, makes an ID and notes that he saw the particular feature in the microscope but did not have a chance to take a photo of it…

Velma gets a notification of Joe’s worm observation. She’s a worm expert and doesn’t trust just any random Joe claiming to have found the the rare worm. without a photo of the microscopic feature, this could be any number of worms. so she flags Joe’s ID and starts the countdown to nullifying his ID.

12 months pass, and on the anniversary of Joe’s death, his ID is nullified.


Interesting scenario…

For a start, I’ll assume the implementation of this challenge feature as having gone the path that I suggested in my post.

I would assume that the statement that the feature was present is a good indication that Joe knew what he was talking about, so if it were me I would be reluctant to challenge on that basis alone. I would drop comments maybe to the effect of how rare this is, and that I’m not going to confirm it because I would want to see the feature myself… and maybe even suggest in my comment that it would be a good idea if no one else did either. If someone confirmed the ID and I felt they weren’t responsive over a dialogue based challenge on their confirmation, then I might even consider an actual challenge on the confirmation ID!

But let’s assume the challenge has been placed. It can be cleared by anyone else who feels the challenge is unjustified. I might go in and see Velma’s challenge, and knowing Joe to be aware of the feature and also having high regard and trust in his IDs I might clear that challenge flag and leave a comment that Joe knows his stuff, but that he passed away not long after and so can’t clear it himself. Again, comments on why we are doing things is a great audit trail and helps others to understand where things are at…

But let’s suppose Velma comes back with a very compelling reason why she believes it to be challengeable… let’s say she had had a conversation with Joe privately just moments after making that observation but equally moments before dying, in which he expressed a degree of uncertainty about whether he had in fact seen that feature… Velma can comment to that effect (for audit trail/explanation) and re-set the challenge. The countdown clock starts again…

13 months later, an expedition into that locality finally discovers the remains of Joe, and there, clutched in his skeletal fingers is the remnants of the worm… complete with the feature still evident… and in order to honour the memory of the fallen iNatter, a group of us (including Velma) put in a request to the staff at iNat to have the withdrawn ID that Joe made reinstated. They decline the request, but we accept the decision knowing that we tried, and that at least there is still the withdrawn ID to show that he had called it way back then, and there is the conversation on the observation to tell the story…

Meanwhile, both Velma and I put IDs and the RG status is reached…

I’m good with that!