"Off-topic" flagging on this forum


I am having problems with a user(s) flagging my posts as “off-topic” when this is borderline, to say the least.

I suggest that merely “off-topic” posts do not need to be flagged or hidden. There are no clear objective criteria for “off-topic”, so it can easily get out of hand. Merely “off-topic” posts can simply be ignored (unless dozens are posted by the same user on the same thread, ignoring polite notification from other users, in which case they should be treated as a site vandal).

I think that there may be some confusion here between merely “off-topic” posts on the one hand, and spam/promotional material on the other. The latter do need to be flagged and hidden, but not the former, I suggest.

Therefore, I suggest that the menu of reasons for flagging posts should include “spam/promotional material”, but not merely “off-topic”.


I disagree somewhat: off-topic posts are unfair to the person who took the effort to start the thread because they hijack discussion away from their question or topic. That is the reason that people object to them.


I agree somewhat, but what seems to be happening to me is that someone is repeatedly flagging my posts as “off-topic” when this is either patently not the case or borderline at most.

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H-m-m-m. I don’t usually mind a digression or two–mostly I don’t think people intend to be off-topic. I wonder if, in the case of a post that garners the interest of many, what’s really needed is the ability to “spin-off”–have that post posted as a separate thread by a request from someone. That way, the original poster’s thread is maintained and the off-topic post becomes its own separate thread for those who want to follow it. Just a thought anyway.


The most recent case (my 14th time flagged in the last few days) was here: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/issue-with-users-automatically-agreeing-to-an-identification/2987/43

My post which was flagged (twice in a row) as “off-topic” was:

‘I wouldn’t object to the abolition of the AI. If an ID is based on the AI, then it probably ought not to count to RG. However, one can use the AI to get the suggestion and then enter it as one’s own suggestion, so getting rid of the AI might be safest.’

It may have been a bit clumsily worded, but I was trying to say that in at least some cases, users are uncritically agreeing with AI generated IDs, making the obs RG when it shouldn’t be. One possible solution is to disqualify AI suggestions from counting towards RG (or getting rid of the AI altogether, which I probably didn’t need to say, but it still doesn’t make my post flaggable!)


I don’t know–it’s not a thread I’ve been following. I think there may be merit in considering a separate thread for something deemed off-topic by a moderator. I would imagine being flagged often is frustrating, so moving a discussion might be less upsetting to the person flagged and perhaps provide those flagging the post the ability to move on in the direction intended.


Well, it would be nice to be given the opportunity to delete or take a post elsewhere before it gets flagged and before I get a message from iNat staff, as I did yesterday, warning me that I have had 13 flags (now 14 thanks to the one mentioned above)!


I hate to suggest that you give people the benefit of the doubt when it clearly wasn’t given to you, but I can’t think of anything else to suggest.

Perhaps a way to dispute being flagged as off-topic… but is that not the job of the moderator who gets to deal with the flag?


I have just had YET ANOTHER post flagged as “off-topic”, even though it was a reply to a post to me from @tiwane and quoted his post! His post was not flagged as “off-topic”, so why the heck was mine? This is getting very silly!


I never met fora with off topic flags and i think it should be abolish. At least it is one of the reasons to limit my posts to a minimum. I agree that most people do not to intend to be offtopic and i think the medicine is worse than the disease.


Staying on topic is a basic tenet of this forum. From the Discourse Guidelines:

Keep It Tidy

Make the effort to put things in the right place, so that we can spend more time discussing and less cleaning up. So:

  • Don’t start a topic in the wrong category.
  • Don’t divert a topic by changing it midstream.
  • Rather than taking an existing topic in a radically different direction, use Reply as a Linked Topic.

If you want to discuss a related topic, you can easily start a new topic and link to the old one. This will allow others to find the new topic in the list of affiliated/related topics. The only category here on Discourse that requires moderator approval before going live is the Feature Requests category. Feel free to start new topics in General or whichever category is most appropriate.

Also from the guidelines,

If You See a Problem, Flag It

When you see bad behavior, don’t reply. It encourages the bad behavior by acknowledging it, consumes your energy, and wastes everyone’s time. Just flag it. If enough flags accrue, action will be taken, either automatically or by moderator intervention.

For transparency, this is the automated message that the user receives when their post has been flagged as off topic:

Post hidden by community flags

Hello, This is an automated message from iNaturalist Community Forum to let you know that your post was hidden.

Your post was flagged as off-topic: the community feels it is not a good fit for the topic, as currently defined by the title and the first post. Multiple community members flagged this post before it was hidden, so please consider how you might revise your post to reflect their feedback. You can edit your post after 10 minutes, and it will be automatically unhidden.

However, if the post is hidden by the community a second time, it will remain hidden until handled by staff. For additional guidance, please refer to our community guidelines.

As you can see, the automated message provides an opportunity to edit your post to bring it on topic or remove inappropriate language. As far as this specific case, while I don’t think this is a great place to discuss the particulars, I can confirm from the moderator’s side that multiple different people have flagged several of Stephen’s posts as off-topic and/or inappropriate in a short time period. And, that editing the post only to say that you don’t know why it was flagged as off topic is not productive.

If anyone has any questions about why their content was flagged, or moderation in general, please feel free to reach out directly to the moderators and staff by privately messaging @moderators.

How to Reply as Linked Topic

Thank you for clarifying the process. That is helpful. :slightly_smiling_face: I’m glad to know that the individual is given the opportunity to edit the post or start a new topic. I assume that someone who “over-flags” would also be subject to moderation as well?


For sure. Unless multiple people are flagging the same post, which has happened, moderators have the option to agree or disagree with a flag before any action is taken. Actions include things like that automated message getting sent, the post getting hidden, sending a personal private message and/or warning, deleting a post, silencing, and suspension. You can read more about how flags work on Discourse here: https://meta.discourse.org/t/what-are-flags-and-how-do-they-work/32783

@tiwane, with the input of a few of us, has been working on a moderation protocol to make this whole process more transparent.


Thank you! Can’t be easy moderating all these posts.:slightly_smiling_face:


With over 1000 users and 10,000 posts I think it’s going pretty smoothly so far. The system is both much more active and much easier to manage (IMO) than the Google Group. Just want to emphasize that anyone should feel “safe” flagging as off topic, inappropriate, spam, or something else or reaching out to @moderators or staff with concerns. While the staff and moderators can see the username of the person who flagged it, the person who made the inappropriate content cannot.


I also wanted to mention that none of this is occurring in a vacuum. In terms of moderation there is usually a lot more going on than is immediately evident. And since all of us here are also active on iNaturalist itself, a lot of what happens here is connected to what happens on iNaturalist itself - issues, conflicts, friendships, rivalries, and all of those other messy elements of human interaction we all are familiar with. There’s no formal connection between flags on iNat and the forum, but certainly in many cases where there are disagreements or issues here that seem to come out of ‘nowhere’ they are actually originating in things that are happening on the main site. In some cases they also relate to past discussions on the Google group, which was more raucous than this one and also not used by a lot of people who are now using this one. And people are a lot more likely to drop a flag, I think, if someone here has also acted in a similar way on iNat. Whether or not that’s the best way to use flags I don’t know, but it’s a reality of human nature and being a part of a community.
In terms of people over-flagging, note that one person’s flag can not hide a post. And if we encounter issues with someone ‘flag trolling’, then we will have to deal with that as well. I don’t think that is happening here.
So yeah, as bouteloua says above, if you have concerns about moderation, feel free to message @moderators . This sends a message to all of us and is better to use than trying to single out just one of us to message. If you have an issue with the moderators or otherwise something you think is better addressed to staff only, your best bet is help@inaturalist.org.
Overall, it’s true that this forum is moderated differently than many others and more ‘closely’ than websites a lot of people use (twitter, reddit, etc), and also more so than the Google Group. That is because this is meant to be an efficient and relatively drama free place to discuss issues, concerns, suggestions, etc. If you’re interested in a more informal, fun, goofy sort of setting, i recommend checking the unofficial discord server . If you’re interested in discussion about specific nature related things, an inaturalist journal post may be best.

Hope this helps!


Yes, thank you. I, too, have never been on a forum (or at least I don’t remember one) where the flag could be for posting an off-topic comment. I’m not judging–I just wanted more info. on the subject and to understand the issue. I appreciate the response.

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@charlie is certainly correct that a lot more may be happening behind the scenes than is evident from a thread seen in isolation. I would definitely agree wholeheartedly with that assessment, plus some!


Yes, will be adding that doc soon, sorry about the delay.

I think discussions can be a turn-off for many people when they veer off-topic (they are for me), so start a new one if your thoughts stray a little too far from the original post. I believe the resulting discussions will be more fruitful.

More generally, I really think Discourse’s guidelines (which @bouteloua posted above) really do a good job of expressing what this place should be like - I wish I’d been able to write that well myself. So for us all: please be polite, assume others mean well, try to avoid humor that may be misinterpreted, stay on topic as much as possible (moderators can split topics if need be), let something go if you are getting to emotional about it, and don’t post anything you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the newspaper. Stick to those guidelines and it’s unlikely anything you post will get flagged.

Like all humans, moderators and staff can and will make mistakes, so definitely message us or let us know if you think that’s happening. We’re all learning how to build this community together.

I hope you are all able to get outside and see some nature this weekend!


In other words: if you want to discuss anything at all controversial, don’t bother! :)