iNat staff have decided to update our policy in regard to blocking other users: you can now block up to three users for any reason. Blocked accounts will not be able to message you, comment on your observations, identify your observations, or otherwise interact with you on iNaturalist. It also removes their observations from your search results and removes your observations from their search results. However, it does not make you invisible to them. They can still find your observations and view your profile, they just can’t interact with you. This is intended to protect against stalking, harassment, and unproductive conflict.
With this simplified policy, staff will not intervene or investigate blocking. Here’s how we came to this decision.
Some background: blocking was implemented in 2016, about eight years after iNat launched, motivated by emails to us from people concerned about stalking and harassment. The intent of blocking is to prevent someone who has threatened you or caused you harm in the past from re-traumatizing you by interacting with you on iNat. That includes adding identifications to your observations. Even something as innocuous-seeming as adding a correct ID to someone’s observation could be a subtle way for a harasser to let that person know they’re watching them.
However, we anticipated that blocking would be abused to avoid identifications from people you don’t agree with or simply to punish people you don’t like but have not threatened or harmed you. In an extreme case, blocking every person who tries to ID your observations would circumvent our crowdsourced quality controls. This kind of behavior would undermine the collaborative curation we promote, but we also need to allow people to safely use iNat without harassment. As a compromise, we added two limitations that you won’t find on sites like Twitter or Facebook: you can only block up to three other accounts, and we specified that blocking is not for preventing someone from identifying your observations because you don’t like or trust their identifications (the way to deal with this is by opting out of the Community Taxon). We also said iNaturalist staff would investigate instances where blocking was used inappropriately.
We haven’t received many complaints about potentially inappropriate blocking in the last seven years, but the instances where we have investigated have shown us it’s not really possible to do so effectively and safely. Asking people about why they blocked someone defeats the legitimate purpose of blocking by bringing up very personal unpleasant experiences or feelings, which is not something we want to or should be doing. It also means staff has to make a judgment call about someone’s motivations without evidence that can be independently evaluated. Therefore, blocking three other accounts for any reason is now allowed, although we strongly discourage it as a means to prevent someone you don’t like or don’t trust from identifying your observations. If you feel that it’s necessary to block a fourth user, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org but we will require an explanation with this request.
Muting (meaning one isn’t notified by another user’s actions on iNaturalist) is another tool to minimize conflicts or frustration that may arise on iNaturalist, so we’ve made some user interface changes to more prominently display the muting functionality.
- There is now a mute button on profile pages.
- On the Relationships page in Account Settings, Muting now appears above Blocking, so you’ll see it first.
iNaturalist has both social and data quality aspects to it. We wish blocking was not necessary at all, but this is a compromise that we hope allows people to use iNaturalist and feel safe while preserving the opportunity for community review by limiting the number of blocks.