Even the most adorable place on the internet has to deal with online drama every now and then.
With more than 14.7 million subscribers, Reddit's /r/aww subreddit stands as the antidote for an increasingly toxic internet that's bursting at the seams with scammers, bullies, other malcontents. After a full day spent mining for "dank memes" among people allied with the forces of National Socialism, who wouldn't want to detox by looking at photos of a corgi standing in a Home Depot shopping cart or an Australian shepherd welcoming the first warm day of spring?
But bubbling just beneath the surface of the 12th largest subreddit in terms of subscribers is an ongoing controversy over the provenance of some of these photos and whether or not members of the popular subreddit should be obligated to disclose where they find them.
Last week, a well-known Reddit user by the name of /u/GallowBoob shared a delightful photo to /r/aww of a pooch chilling at the beach. Fun! It quickly emerged, however, that this photo was actually taken by a user of a popular Facebook group devoted to Dogspotting, a semi-satirical sport that's exactly what it sounds like.
"In a perfect world /u/GallowBoob would cite where his content came from," /u/Gov_Martin_OweMalley, who originally spotted the photo in question, told me in a Reddit private message. "If people like what he/she is posting why wouldn't they like the original source?"
While /u/GallowBoob did not cite the source in his post, over a series of Reddit private messages and emails to me he later denied any intentional wrongdoing and said he always gives credit when the original creator asks. He then suggested that the real problem is that Reddit as a platform makes it difficult to cite sources since direct links to rival social media platforms like Facebook are banned. A moderator for /r/aww later echoed that opinion, adding that criticism toward /r/GallowBoob over the source of his feel-good photos often spills into outright harassment inside his threads. (Reddit does not permit harassment as a matter of policy.)
And while all of that may be true—it probably should be easier to share a photo to Reddit alongside a citation of where it originally came from—the originator of Dogspotting sees this incident as indicative of an internet-wide cavalier attitude toward authorship and as an affront to the true spirit of Dogspotting.
"Reddit is built upon content aggregation and not on content creation," John Savoia, who's widely credited with creating the tongue-in-cheek sport of Dogspotting, told me via email. To Savoia, that some /r/aww users feel comfortable passing off other people's images as their own ranks as the lowest of the low. "Dogspotting is built on the concept that honor and satisfaction come from doing the work of spotting," he said. "These poor souls probably haven't seen a real dog in years."
"Dogspotting is nothing without the vibrant and amazing community of people who everyday put themselves out there to spot dogs," he added. "Across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram we want to show off the best of Dogspotting, not just the photos, but the people who bring that content to Dogspotting. Dogspotting is a lifestyle but it's also a community."
Have your photos of cute animals been used without your permission on /r/aww or elsewhere online? If so please contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by Twitter @nicholasadeleon (my DMs are open). I can also be contacted securely with Signal (email or DM for further details).