r/DigitalPainting is an overly strict subreddit allegedly devoted to learning digital rendering.

This was one of the other online venues I considered migrating to after deciding to quit DeviantArt. On 10 June 2019, I posted an image there, this doughnut. Since the rules in the sidebar say direct image uploads aren't allowed and images must be in the form of links to Imgur, Tumblr or DeviantArt, I posted the image as a Tumblr link. Or I tried to.

Rule against Reddit images

The existence of this rule is already a red flag. The post linked from the sidebar, written by the moderator "arifterdarkly", reads as follows:

Why we don't allow submissions using redd.it

A lot of people have asked us about this. We have also been told we're being elitist assholes for not allowing reddi.t. People are really friendly on the internet. Here's what we tell most people who ask:

”in no particular order, here are a few reasons why reddit's image host is shit: i.reddit leads to more mindless crossposting which defeats the purpose of this subreddit; it's made for memes so large images are pushed into unreadable previews that you have to click on once to get to the page, then click again to get to the image itself and then once more to zoom in, which is just user unfriendly; low effort content is easily posted to i.reddit but since it takes a little longer to jump through the hoops going through deviantart or imgur, people are less likely to post paintings they don't care about (sure, there will always be morons who do in fact go through the hoops, but at least there's fewer of them); and our subreddit wasn't made for showing images directly, it was made to link images. we would have to do a pretty thorough redesign in order to fix that, which we can't be bothered with due to us being busy with even more important stuff.”

It's fairly self-explanatory, but I should elaborate on that last point about reddit not being meant to show images. Reddit started off as a message board, where people wrote about things. Keyword here being that they wrote. You linked content, like an image or a news article – from somewhere else – and then you commented in the reddit thread. Imgur was first created in 2009 as a dedicated image host for reddit. Imgur was the place for images and reddit was the place for text (about the images).

Since the shitty redesign and launch of redd.it, reddit wants to become a one stop shop for image-based memes. They want to be an image based community. Memes bring in visitors and visitors means ad revenue. With that in mind, they want to make it easy for us to contribute low effort content. Low effort content is, in turn, the bane of subreddits. Once a subreddit hits a certain number of subscribers, people start to post memes and once the memes start pouring in, high effort content is drowned out. See every default subreddit for examples. r/digitalpainting is NOT an image based subreddit. That sounds counter to everything, but let me explain: r/digitalpainting is for critique of paintings, not paintings. See the difference? Here, we talk (write) about paintings, we don't just look at paintings. We – the mods – think of your paintings as high effort content. Even if it's your first painting ever. It is always our hope that someone will write a high effort critique on it and that you'll walk away having learned something.

Look at me. Look deep into my eyes (I have been told I have lovely eyes). We will never make it easy to post shitty low effort content on r/digitalpainting.

The main point of this essay seems to be that using direct uploads makes it too easy to post images. If it's "easy", that automatically means the subreddit will fill up with "memes" and "low effort content" [sic]. There's some merit to this view. DeviantArt is easy to upload to and itself riddled with low-quality work. But is it the ease of uploading that controls the quality, or are other factors more important? The related subreddits r/art and r/vectorart allow images directly on Reddit, and their submissions consist mostly of such images and are largely high-quality. What's the difference? One possibility is better moderation. The three moderators of r/digitalpainting (or at least "arifterdarkly") seem to prefer making uploads more difficult over actual quality control. Some moderation tasks, such as spam prevention, are easily automated and should be done this way if possible. Quality control of artwork is not one of them.

The other idea presented is that Reddit's image host is tainted because it was designed for memes. I haven't noticed the image display problems it's accused of having (if anything, forcing links is worse because that limits what is seen on Reddit to small previews. Was the situation different in 2018?), and I do not believe that the origin of this feature necessarily has anything to do with its actual use. Again, see the other art subreddits. The portrayal of direct image uploads is insulting to the many who use this method to post high-quality artwork.

"our subreddit wasn't made for showing images directly" is not the same as "reddit not being meant to show images". These are disconnected thoughts. Whether Reddit is or is not "meant to" display images has nothing to do with design decisions made by a subreddit's moderators. The first point continues on to the claim that "we would have to do a pretty thorough redesign in order to fix that". It seems the only things stopping the subreddit from "showing images directly" are the rule against doing so and the bot that removes rule-breaking submissions. What kind of "thorough redesign" would be needed to change this?

My experience

But nonetheless, I posted the picture. I made the mistake of also dragging and dropping it into the box, since I didn't know if it would show up as a preview otherwise. (Reddit lacks any kind of preview feature, and I haven't posted many links there.) This resulted in an image from i.reddit.com that overrode the link and caused the whole post to be labeled "i.reddit.com". Shortly afterward, I got a message from AutoModerator saying my post had been automatically removed because it wasn't from an "approved site".

Another odd aspect of the rule: it goes beyond banning images from a particular source (Reddit). They must be from Imgur, Tumblr or DeviantArt. Why? Suppose someone has their artwork on their own website or another art site, such as ArtStation. They can't post it -- even though it would be no less "low effort" than if it were done through the approved sources.

Then I resubmitted the post with just the link. This apparently went through. I posted the following comment, taking the advice from the sidebar about this: "You are encouraged to leave a comment about what you struggled with, context, or techniques you were experimenting with, so that commenters can better help you". It read:

Is this actually here this time? I didn't realize dragging and dropping an image would cause it to be from i.reddit.com. Anyway... I drew this for National Doughnut Day. I'm still new to FireAlpaca, and it doesn't have much in the way of hardness control, so what I produce with it is a mix of too sharp and too fuzzy. I'm working on it.

Reference image: https://sharedmedia.grahamdigital.com/photo/2016/04/06/Krispy%20Kreme%20doughnuts_20468586_7142582_ver1.0_1280_720.jpg

Then I was notified that this, too, had been removed:

Your submission was automatically removed because {{domain}} is not an approved site. All image links must originate from Imgur, Tumblr, or Deviantart. If you feel your post was unfairly removed, please contact the Mods.

I am a bot, and this action was performed automatically. Please contact the moderators of this subreddit if you have any questions or concerns.

I had not known there were any restrictions on links in comments. The rule only explicitly discusses posts. When I saw this, I assumed the problem was the link to the reference image, and I reposted the comment with the second paragraph modified:

Reference image: removed because AutoModerator deleted the original comment for containing an external link. How do I link to reference images?

But this was also removed. This baffled me until I realized the filter must have triggered on the text "i.reddit.com", even though it wasn't a link. It detects domain names rather than actual links. I could not have known exactly what triggered it because it gave the objectionable site as "{{domain}}".

I posted the following reply to AutoModerator's comment. I know this is a bot account that does not read replies, but the point was just to publish the comment in the thread.

Excuse me. That comment didn't have any links in it at all. Does your link filter automatically detect the existence of a domain name, which is not a link? Not smart enough to look for the protocol at the beginning? I'm also getting "you are doing that too much. try again in x minutes." for no apparent reason, seemingly every time I try to post a comment. Thanks for the unnecessarily user-unfriendly experience.

The red "you are doing that too much" message seems to originate from some kind of throttling mechanism. I had not seen it mentioned anywhere, and I found it so frustrating that I was about ready to give up. I then reposted my original comment a third time, now sufficiently censored; by this time I only wanted it posted and had decided never to return.

Is this actually here this time? I didn't realize dragging and dropping an image would cause it to be from i[dot]reddit[dot]com. Anyway... I drew this for National Doughnut Day. I'm still new to FireAlpaca, and it doesn't have much in the way of hardness control, so what I produce with it is a mix of too sharp and too fuzzy. I'm working on it.

Reference image: removed because AutoModerator deleted the original comment for containing an external link. How do I link to reference images?

Posting this comment for the third time because your link filter doesn't know how to distinguish between links and domain names. Look for the http/https. If it's not there, it's not a link. Unsure if this is the fault of someone here or Reddit itself.

Then arifterdarkly stepped in to give me advice:

we don't allow direct uploads in this subreddit. says so in the rules. people link reference images all the time, just not from reddit since that's not allowed.

This is a terse "read the rules" type comment that does not address the points I made. Not allowing reference images from Reddit is not mentioned anywhere in the rules, as far as I can see. This was complete news. It also does not make sense because it's not the reference image you're supposed to put "high effort" into.

It's worth noting the wording of the rule in the sidebar. In "old Reddit", it reads: "Link posts must be images on imgur/tumblr/deviantart. Before you message us about not being able to directly upload art, read more here." In "new Reddit", it reads: "Links must be images on imgur or tumblr or deviantart. Read the sticky before you message us." The first is clearly about posts only, but the second just says "links" -- which could mean any links, even those in comments, even those that aren't meant to point to images. But the explanation linked to is the same, and that is evidently about posts.

I replied, clarifying:

Yes, I did read the rules. That's why it was a Tumblr link to begin with. It always was. I dropped an image in the box because I didn't know if it would show up otherwise. (Silly me?) Then I found that it had somehow overridden my original link and caused the submission to be from "i[dot]reddit[dot]com" and removed. Then I posted that comment and naturally assumed it was removed because of the actual link in it... which was not to i[dot]reddit[dot]com. Also doesn't help that the message says "Your submission was automatically removed because {{domain}} is not an approved site." {{domain}}? And then "All image links must originate from Imgur, Tumblr, or Deviantart" implies that, if the comments are affected by the filter, you can't post links to any other site. I take it from what you're saying that how it actually works is i[dot]reddit[dot]com is given special treatment -- so much so that the domain can't even be mentioned properly. Too horrible to talk about?

I was half kidding with the last sentence. Apparently something in the post was too much for arifterdarkly, because they replied with this:

i'm not involved with the controls of automoderator, nor can we see your initial, removed comment. but dragging and dropping an image means you uploaded an image direct and your comment will link to reddit, which, like i said, is not allowed.

i get that this has been a frustrating ordeal for you, but 1) you could have contacted the moderators both the first and the second time automoderator suggested it and 2) you need to dial back the attitude a bit. helpful suggestions paired with snarky comments does not work well here. moderators are people too and we don't enjoy sarcasm hurled our way.

I am painfully aware of what it's like to be in a position of internet authority. It's difficult to do, but it does not exempt someone from criticism or justify bad behavior. I see no reason to politely lie down and take it when faced with someone who is obviously unreasonable, no matter how hard their life is or how highly they rank in some corner of the internet. (Unless that reason is "staying out of trouble", that is.) I don't even know what exact parts of my comments were considered objectionable. Probably the worst thing I said was "Thanks for the unnecessarily user-unfriendly experience". The last comment arifterdarkly actually replied to was meant to be entirely sincere and reasonable except for the last (joking) sentence.

I had already figured out what dragging and dropping an image did by the time I posted the first comment. This is clear from the comment replied to. This and the first comment in the thread contain enough information about my original comment for someone to give intelligent advice about its removal. The important points are that it contained the text "i.reddit.com", which was not a link, and a link to a reference image that was not on Reddit. Instead of intelligent advice, I was told basically "I don't know what's going on, but you need to read the rules and not talk back".

Should I have contacted the moderators? Maybe. Would it have done any good? Probably not. It should be their job to ensure that posting on their subreddit is straightforward and user-friendly, not mine to figure out all the intricacies of it and beg for help when I get lost. As demonstrated by the rule discussed above, they are not doing that job; they're deliberately doing the opposite.

Other rules

There are some other strange rules in the sidebar.

7. Self-promotional top comments are not allowed. your entire submission will be removed.

This has a link to an explanation. The important part:

Over the last couple of weeks we've seen an upswing in people coming here to not learn. Instead they come here to promote themselves. Top comments like "buy prints here" or "for more, visit my website" become increasingly common. Thing is, making comments like that shows me that OP doesn't know what subreddit he or she is in. We're here to learn, not promote ourselves.

So we're banning self promotional top comments. That means unsolicited comments with links to personal websites, print stores, etc. are no longer allowed. The comment will be removed - along with the entire submission! There are better subreddits if you only want to show off your art. like r/art for example.

When one sees a subreddit named "digitalpainting", it's natural to think it's meant for posting digital paintings -- and yet that's not what r/digitalpainting is. You have to read the sidebar to know what the thing is about. It's a much narrower scope than one would expect from the name... or the comment threads. Despite the insistence that "we're here to learn", the threads currently visible on the front page are almost entirely devoid of constructive criticism, containing mostly praise or silence.

r/art, meanwhile, also frowns on self-promotion with the rule "Do not include links to blogs, social media, or stores.", and it has text in the comment textbox that encourages constructive criticism and discourages fluffy praise. Most comments there are praise, but the second-to-top post among those currently visible contains an interesting, critical thread on perspective. You won't see anything like that on r/digitalpainting.

8. Submissions with the artist's name in the title will be removed.

This also has an explanation.

Why? Because every time someone submits a title like "Magic Mirror by ienkub" a mod has to go and find out if the submitter and the artist in the title are the same person. Imagine if arifterdarkly submits a painting called "Coolness, by Mats Evenson" and the link points to ienkub.deviantart.com. That means a mod has to click around a deviantart gallery for however long to find out if arifterdarkly is this Mats person or not.

Luckily, you're only allowed to submit your own work to this subreddit. Therefore there's no need to put your name in the submission title.

I get why you would want to put your name in the submission title, though. It's a way to get your name out there. Do a little bit of promotion, that kind of stuff. Good news: you can do that in plenty of other subreddits! But not in this one.

Submissions without names in the titles don't have to be verified as belonging to the submitter, but with names, they do? Right.

10. You only get to post a maximum of one post every 24 hours.

This is not explained. Is it intended to encourage people to spend time on their work? to make submissions even harder so they'll be even more high-quality? to throttle input so there's less for the moderators to pick through? Who knows?