Observations too-hastily marked as inappropriate - How do you deal with them?

I’m seeing a few more than usual observations marked as inappropriate in recent times that may or may not be so, but someone has proceeded to directly flag as inappropriate without asking the user about the issue.

Some recent examples are observations of plants on a white piece of paper flagged as illegal collecting, observations of free birds marked as being illegally kept captive by the observer, or observations of an observer is handling an animal and a permit is needed to do so in their local area.

In none of these cases was there any attempt to contact the observer and determine whether they had a permit or valid reason, the record was just flagged as inappropriate.

I’m unsure how to deal with these. On one side, I feel like the last thing we want to do is encourage illegal behaviour. On the other hand, I’m somewhat annoyed that, in each case, the flagger is jumping to conclusions without asking the observer, and thus shifting the onus onto curators. Similarly, I am noticing a trend of increasing flagging of records that show behaviours or objects that some users don’t like (e.g. handling animals, road-kill), and placing an onus on iNat to police behaviour of users that is often neither illegal nor even against the community guidelines.

So the tl;dr is: how do you deal with inappropriate flags that are distasteful but not against the rules, and where no attempt has been made to ask the observer?

FWIW I’ve been doing a mix of: closing the flag as nothing inappropriate; suggesting the flagger ask the user; asking the user myself; etc. However, I’d love to be consistent with what others are doing.


I agree this is becoming a problem. As you may know from our conversations on a certain flag for a certain user, people are flagging comments that had nothing to do with them but could be interpreted as rude but don’t appear to be taken that way by any of the people involved. Don’t flag comments because someone else could take it as rude. Only flag em if you think they’re rude, and you were the person it was directed at.


Is there a question when you mark something inappropriate? I recall a Radiolab episode about Facebook moderators with a problem like this, it turns out tons of people were flagging pics other people posted of them because they didn’t like the photo. The asked some question like “what’s inappropriate?” with an option for “I don’t like it” and that seemed to help a lot.

Maybe some kind of popup asking which of the inappropriate options does it fall under could help you filter out things that shouldn’t be flagged:

  • Insults or threats
  • Racist or sexist content
  • Hate speech
  • Sexually explicit content involving humans
  • Spam
  • Defamatory content, libelous content, or content which violates a third party’s privacy
  • Other _________

I can understand a concerned user not wanting to initiate a confrontation with another user, but being concerned about their behavior. In some (most?) cases this concern may be unwarranted, but that won’t stop the user from being concerned. Some people don’t agree with collecting specimens in any circumstance, legal or otherwise. Some people don’t want to see dead animals, no matter the circumstances. I’ve encountered a few users that put a warning as the first photo when uploading roadkill.

I don’t think you can completely eliminate people getting upset about something they see that they think is bad.


for me, some of these flags were clearly lost in cultural/language differences - I think it would be good to stick to “other users mean well” a bit more.

I think what seems rude/wrong to an (English) speaker might sometimes just be a literal translation of the local language. It is sometimes very difficult to get the nuances right in another language :)

Message privately if you have some concerns first would be the best way for me.


So a user can just flag any observation of another user as “inappropriate”? What happens then, it gets hidden? Is there voting similar to “evidence of organism” and so on, or does one flag just cancel the observation? I would never even think of using this function (because why would I do that to people?) and nobody has, fortunately, yet used in on me, so I have no idea. But from the general gist of it it seems to me that having this function on iNat is a very bad idea.

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given there are instances of genuine inappropriate content being posted, it is a good (and indeed necessary) feature as long as it is used appropriately


the observation becomes casual whilst the flag is still active/unresolved

there is no voting, one flag makes it casual (explicitly noting here the observation does not get deleted)

however, returning to

whilst this is true, it is difficult to ‘abuse’ this tool. All flags are clearly visible on the dashboard, so if someone has flagged an observation facetiously or maliciously, it is very easy for a curator to immediately resolve the flag and ‘restore’ the observation to normal.


If it can only be overturned by a curator, it will eventually end up like Facebook - you will just have you content removed at the whim of random offense-takers or just people who want to be annoying - because there are much more people who can press the button than people who can remove it.

The only sensible solution is to require someone (so probably a curator in the case of iNat) to act to approve the flag, not to remove it.


the flag feature has been on iNat for many years, and no systemic problem has arisen thus far. The number of users abusing flags is exceedingly small


I think your approach is generally good and sounds like the approach that I take. I consider it a chance to educate the users on how iNat flags work. To speed this up, I make good use of the excellent Responses to Commonly Flagged Situations page (thanks to @bouteloua) which I keep open when working on flags. That page doesn’t have responses that address some of the inappropriate flagging reasons that you mentioned, though, so we could consider drafting a standard response for some of those (like maybe for flagging dead/roadkill).

If I have time, and I agree that a situation is potentially inappropriate or a violation, I try to model the behavior that I want the flagger to take by leaving a comment tagging the user whose action/photo was flagged on the observation asking the user about it. I then say in a comment on the flag, something like “If flagging in the future, please ask the user about this situation, as I’ve done…”

If the issue is clearly not inappropriate, I close the flag and leave a brief reason.

@brnhn There is a popup for flagging which reads:

Flagging brings something to the attention of volunteer site curators. Please don’t flag problems you can address with identifications, the Data Quality Assessment, or by talking to the person who made the content.

Commercial solicitation, links to nowhere, etc.

Offensive / Inappropriate
Misleading or illegal content, racial or ethnic slurs, etc. For more on our definition of “appropriate,” see the FAQ.

Copyright Infringement
Violates copyright law or was created by someone other than the observer and lacks attribution

Some other reason you can explain below.

So it doesn’t ask for sub reasons for inappropriate but does give some reasons to flag as such and a link to documentation. I feel like adding more text here probably wouldn’t be beneficial (it’s a lot to read already), but maybe a secondary/conditional popup for “inappropriate” that asks for more specifics options could work.

On my end, the frustrating flags I feel like I’ve seen recently are “Other” with nothing entered and no clear reason for flagging. For these I leave a comment asking the flagger, etc. and they take time. I wish the other flag required users to enter something to justify/explain it.

Side note, if I see this behavior,

I ask users not to do this as images need to contain the focal organism and suggest annotating as “Dead” instead.


The other alternative people use is to start with a kinder, less gory picture of the animal.
Followed by the others. (I annotate as Dead, Mark as Reviewed, don’t want to see that again - but no grounds for flagging)


And here I didn’t realize people were flagging observations for presumed illegal collecting. I agree that a comment/question to the observer should probably be the first course of action.

Beyond that if there’s a pattern of such collecting going on, the way to make a difference would be alerting the local rangers instead of putting a flag on a website. Having talked to some of our park rangers about these issues, the bottom line appears to be that there is organized poaching going on of some plants in certain places and those are the “big fish” they’re trying to catch. Those poachers know where to go, they don’t get their coordinates from iNat or post their stuff on iNat, and they come in with a truck and trash bags and an army of hired collectors in the middle of the night. Someone posting a few plants on iNat is peanuts by comparison, even if it looks like they dug stuff up without a permit.


Any pattern to the users who are doing this? Are they from the same area, are they all newer users, etc?

I think if the flagger is a new user and/or hasn’t made many similar flags, probably best to explain to them what should and shouldn’t be flagged, and that it’s best to respond to the observer in a civil manner before flagging, in the case of questionable behavior in the field. I do agree with @david99, though, and understand that some people don’t want to risk confronting others, so flags should be available to them, even if it’s not ideal. If the misuse of flagging continues by that user, then it’s time to consider other interventions.

FWIW, when I see something questionable or perhaps unethical, such as owl baiting or snake killing, I try to use it as a teaching moment and provide a link to a resource like https://www.audubon.org/news/why-you-shouldnt-feed-or-bait-owls or https://savethesnakes.org/coexist/ and not shame or judge them (which I think doesn’t really work when trying to change behavior). But, being an iNat staff member likely means that responses to my comments may often be more measured than responses to someone without any official status.

As @thebeachcomber said, this hasn’t happened at scale, and when a user has abused flagging, it’s dealt with pretty quickly.

I do want to emphasize that curators cannot delete content - currently they can only suspend users and hide comments on observations. We’re working on functionaliy that will allow curators to hide other content (like photos and IDs), but they still won’t be able to delete content. Only staff members or the user who posted the content can delete content from iNat, and we as staff only do it sparingly and for very objectionable content, such as hate speech and pornography.

Agree, that might be helpful.


In these cases I think that it could be worth recommending to photograph plants in their environment. Especially if the observer is asking for an identification, it is not a good practice to collect a plant. It could be something rare and/or protected or doing so could just encourage the practice of uprooting plants.

As far as the country I live in is concerned, in many of these cases the observers did not understand that the position of the observation should be that where the plant was growing and not the building where they made the photograph. Maybe some of them are students that have to identify plants for the herbarium to do the botany exam.

In the end, I would just suggest to discourage the practice pf photographing plants that have been collected (that does not necessarily mean not to collect plants at all!).

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Ok, I can see the handling. Especially with birds/ mammals, but if you have a little frog or beetle in your hand, that is totally different. (although oils in our skin can harm frogs, so if you have to move them from a dangerous space, wash your hands first). With handling birds/mammals, that is different from a smaller organism bc birds and mammals can pass more diseases to humans. There is nuance to even this, for example, the Kensington Metropark near where I live lets you hand feed the songbirds.

The roadkill though? why flag that as inappropriate? Dead organisms have use on inat too. If a person doesn’t like to see gore, they can put in a filter so that only live organisms show.

I have never had any of this happen to me personally, which is interesting as quite a few of my obs are of slightly gorey bones, and I also usually put any feathers I find on a nice backdrop to photograph before putting them back where I found them (could maybe be accused similar to the plants on paper) That said, I would ask the user directly, and if they don’t reply then do a different tactic.

they might be putting a piece of paper behing live plants to photograph better


Thanks to everyone who chimed in, I appreciate the effort of telling others how you handle issues.

Funny you should mention this, I am seeing a fair few of these flagged, where the flagger has made no attempt to converse with the user and let them know why they consider it inappropriate. It feels to me somewhat lazy to flag a post because you don’t agree with what you see, without making any effort at letting the person know that you disagree with what they did.

I understand it’s not the easiest conversation to start, particularly getting the balance right so the person hears what you have to say rather than just turning off, but it’s no easier for us than the original flagger.

I use this all the time, so @bouteloua, you most definitely have my emphatic thanks as well!


Should there be a time limit on what can be flagged as ‘inappropriate’? I keep finding flags for comments made years ago, and as @leytonjfreid previously mentioned, these users weren’t involved in the original conversation. Sometimes it feels like they’re searching for these kinds of comments and then flagging them. Some of the flagged comments are even found on rather obscure previous flags.

Can this kind of behavior be discouraged? I don’t see how it’s productive.


Really don’t understand this aversion about someone photoing an animal in hand. There are lots of reasons to be holding an animal: removal from a trap or road, capturing as part of research or even just for legally keeping as a pet, restraining so that a picture can be taken, etc. Some might not like this behavior but it’s really none of their business. I have handled many animals as part of my work and some I’ve photographed in hand, including endangered species for which I had a permit. Bottom line, don’t leap to conclusions about what you think is going on in a picture unless there is clear evidence that something illegal is being shown.


Sometimes very bad stuff (human nudity, hate speech) doesn’t get flagged when it first appears and is only found years later. In those cases, flagging is a good way to get it to curator/staff’s attention and it can be removed or hidden. So I don’t think there should be a blanket statute of limitations.

I think this is a squishier area. Flagging in order to build a moderation history of the user can be helpful and put any current misbehavior in context for curators. But flagging to dig up dirt, harass someone, and/or reopen old arguments is not productive.