What to do with users who consistently misidentify?

I’ve come across a user who has been on iNat since May, contributing ~100 identifications, but many of these IDs are blatantly incorrect, often involving endemic species from other corners of the world. I just corrected a toadfish that was mistaken for a wobbegong shark.

I’ve left helpful notes on my corrections and tagged this user, but they’ve never responded or changed their IDs. What else can be done to dissuade this behavior? At a certain point, is it possible to flag a user like this for suspension if their actions are detrimental to how this site functions?


Just as there are attentive, knowledgeable, careful users who strive for useful records with accurate IDs, there are also those who are the complete opposite. Other than adding IDs that are correct or more correct than the ones these users provide (and providing comments on these IDs, although this user seems not to be responding to your assistance), I’m not sure what else can be done. One would hope that eventually these posted records end up with the correct IDs as other iNatters get around to reviewing them, even if the submitter never changes their ID…

Users can be flagged or suspended - and I would consider consistently and flagrantly incorrect IDs to be spam. If this kind of behavior persists after many attempts at correcting the user, I believe suspension would be justified.


The question is, are they being malicious or deliberately sloppy or are they confused/ignorant about how to find a legitimate ID or how the site works? Don’t assume bad intent when incompetence is a possible reason.


Some user’s may be new iNatters and are using it as a way to learn more about their new found hobby. In the beginning they may make lots of mistakes but slowly they will get better. Those are the users we should help and support. But keep in mind they may not be active in iNat all the time which may be a reason for the inactivity. I’d say keep an eye out, and if the user makes again the same sort of mistake, I’d say start considering flagging the user.

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If this user is using the species suggestions, I have been rather impressed with just how off those can be, I uploaded a picture recently and the top five suggestions weren’t even from this area and when I finally found one that was in my area, it was a different genus from my picture.


Wikipedia might be a good model of a community w/ similar problems. A data focused site struggling between the integrity and the helpfulness of their pages vs training new users (your “eternal September” if you will)
To quote their page on Blocking users:

Deterrence is based upon the likelihood of repetition

Call be a zealot perhaps, but I lean more to the banhammer side of things. Why? Mostly because I like that iNat is such a great resource for my area, and that functionality suffers when the data set is watered down.
And to play devils advocate, I think iNat might have to walk the tightrope between the two opposing goals of data intergrity and acting as a gateway to the natural sciences.


Innocent must be assumed. Can you prove malicious intent?

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They could use the automatic suggestion system.It suggest sometimes very strange species. There is a small symbol on the identification for it. If they use the App they probably don’t get a notification about a comment on their observations. You can try to motivate experts using the @username to make a correcting identification.


The only page I can find from iNat that would let users know the rules, is the Community Guideline page. Which reads more like a Code of Conduct page to me.
Users are told they can be Banned Suspended if they (use):

  • Hate Speech
  • Insults or threats
  • Sexually explicit content
  • Sockpuppet account(s)

I wonder about the user in this thread here, who was probably suspended for all the irelevant content they posted. Maybe those were just Casual posts?
Yesterday I flagged a post for just being a screenshot of someone’s phone, showing a Pokemon. That issue was resolved when a mod flagged the post for lacking “Evidence of organism”; but it’s still up and shows in search results. A screenshot. Of a Pokemon.

Snark aside, I think this is a great thread for discussing the thorny issues that arise from user curated content. Wikipedia struggles w/ this, Reddit, and lots of sites. I do not however agree that anyone should need to try and prove malice. That’s a tall order, this is cyberspace afterall. But Culling the long tail of inapropriate content can only be made easier w/ stricter rules and guidelines.

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my guess is iNat admin would not be supportive of deleting a user just because they are bad at identifying things. Obviously if it’s intentional, or other fake data is being created, that’s a whole other story. Certainly there are grey areas and if someone continues to be absurdly wrong with no desire to learn or fix or improve… there might be cases where warnings or bannings are appropriate, but I think right now that bar is pretty low. I found one user who constanly posted really off plant IDs and would argue them extensively when I tried to describe why they were wrong… I ended up ‘fixing’ all their IDs and they were pissed that I was ‘targeting’ them. But i still check their page every now and then to see if they added any more absurd IDs. I’m not sure the answer. It may have been a very young or oblivious person.
Posting photos of pokemon on the other hand is definitely fake data and copyright infringement, flag that


To be clear, this would not meet iNat’s definition of spam. However, I think someone intentionally adding joke/offensive/purposefully wrong IDs can be suspended, after attempts to communicate with them are met with silence or aggression. However, they could be trolls and make new accounts to do this. In which case I recommend alerting help@inaturalist.org. I’ve only come across a few ID trolls on iNat, and communicating with them about how their behavior affects others and iNat’s data has been pretty effective. Replying with anger will generally not solve the issue.

@joe_fish you can email us at help@inatuarlist.org about this particular user, happy to take a look.


Some of those users in the “long tail” are novices who are still trying to figure out iNat. I’d give them some slack, and guidance to the extent we can, and maybe they’ll be important contributors someday. However, a lot are probably “drive-by” users who will never be serious contributors and will eventually fade away. Consider that there are more than 28 million records on iNat right now, from almost 800,000 observers. Of those ~800,000, only about 102,000 are identifiers – this latter group presumably includes the more engaged users. So, yeah, there are a lot of casual and likely inexperienced users here, some of whom might be malicious but most are probably not. It shouldn’t be surprising that we see records that are deeply flawed in various ways given these numbers.


Maybe there should be some photo ID quiz (ID on familly, maybe on genus level, based on already identfied observations) for new users … users may select from which Order/Suborder the questions should be generated. For easy IDs only one point is given, for difficult ones 5 points. (points doubled for species level). For each misidentified specimen -1 point. After reaching maybe 100 points the user is unlocked for general ID (for that Order/Suborder).


There is a user I ran across recently who has done about 30 IDs, and 25 of them are bad maverick IDs, usually added to already research-grade observations. I’m not sure if they’re deliberately misidentifying, or just have no idea how to go about it, but it can get quite irritating.


I am a relatively new user and a lover of wildlife as well as wildlife photography. I am not a trained biologist (I am an oncologist actually) but I thought I knew a little bit about the species I run into frequently and on the basis of that I have tried ID-ing a few observations. However once the specialists add their ID I have found that I have very often been wrong (e.g. confusing closely related species that I never knew about) and even completely wrong (e.g. wrong genus and in one case wrong phylum). This has been a real eye-opener for me, and I realised that I wasn’t being helpful at all.

I now mainly stick to trying to ID my own observations, and I tend to keep to the level of generality where I am reasonably sure (even if this is only “fungi”). I do use the system’s suggested ID as a starting point, but I see that it regularly offers suggestions of species that have not previously been recorded in my locality. Having said that, something that has been ID’d nearby might be from someone else accepting the suggestion of an exotic species, so even that isn’t necessarily reliable, and conversely species can extend their range, or are sometimes sighted well out of it (or escape from captivity).

My point is that people are much more likely to be mistaken than malicious, and indeed they may well be miffed at being put right since they think themselves to be experts because they watch wildlife TV programmes, subscribe to wildlife magazines and look at Web sites, unaware that there are professionals who devote their careers to a single area and have access to DNA analysis, electron microscopy, preserved and captive specimens and whose expertise is on a completely different level. There is something called the Dunning-Kruger effect whereby the less you know about something the more you tend to overestimate your level of competence in that area, or as Shakespeare put it “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knoweth that he is but a fool” (I think this is from King Lear).


And now we can also learn about Shakespeare on iNaturalist :grin:

I just wanted to point out that everybody on iNaturalist is a non-specialist on mostly everything. And whereas some people focus their IDs just on a narrow taxonomic group they specialise in, most people are IDing across a relatively broad range of taxa for which they are mostly total amateurs.

What I mean is: pretty much everybody is in the same situation as you are, for most taxa: we think we know a few species, and then we realise we don’t actually know them that well because someone points out it’s not that. And we learn to look at them differently and notice better what distinguishes them, and eventually we do become “experts” in at least a few common species, and can confidently ID them in at least the region we live in. Learning the common species is crucial because then you can tell when something is different, and by contrast and triangulation we keep learning progressively less common species.

So do continue observing and IDing (your observations and others’), and whenever you are corrected and don’t understand why feel free to ask why, so you can learn from it (keeping in mind some “corrections” are wrong). It’s the only way to learn! Very few experts developed their naturalist expertise by using DNA analysis, electron microscopy, preserved or captive specimens - they developed it exactly as you are developing yours now.


Thank you for this!

I do a lot of IDs, and I’m not really an expert on anything… I just like helping figure out what stuff is. Sometimes when I see these threads I get very self-conscious and wonder if I should leave the IDs to the trained botanists. But then I look at how much the “needs ID” backlog grows every day, and I realize there just aren’t enough true experts out there to possibly keep up.


First of all, I’m pretty sure you’re the wise man even if species ID can be difficult. Second, you are being helpful. As a fellow IDer, wrong IDs happen. It’s what you do next that matters. Withdrawing the error, taking note so you learn things, or engaging in debate as to why you may be correct… are all good things. Also, I think a mistaken ID gets fixed faster than a blank ID. The experts don’t like errors.

In my own procedure, I give myself the most freedom on my own observations. What the heck, they’re mine. I can put in my $0.02 even if it’s a bit of a guess. I’m also more confident since I actually saw the organism. You’d be surprised at how many other clues go into an ID that don’t exist in a photo. For other people’s obs, I’m more cautious. Lately I’ve been putting some level of ID to Unknown obs where I live. Often it’s just Dicot or a family or maybe a genus but it gets the obs in front of IDers eyes that filter for their groups. As a bonus, Unknowns are frequently are first few observations of new users. Feedback is nice even when it’s just the rose planted in their yard.

Go forth and ID.


My annoyance is when someone disagrees and says nothing about what they see or know about what discerns that taxa. As I said to someone who included a disparaging remark when correcting the ID following 4 consecutive people who got it wrong (I was one of them); “don’t just give us crap, please inform us.” and fortunately he replied with a courteous description of what he noticed - and we all were informed. That’s the point. Can we engage and pay attention to the wild plants and critters around us, and with some careful discernment and good intent attempt to ID an organism, and be open to this community of learning about, observing, and documenting wild flora and fauna. Nearly every time I’m on iNat I learn something and often that is due to someone’s help.