Much media vitriol has been focused on Facebook's algorithms and the proliferation of largely right-wing fake news during this election season.

Reddit is taking the opportunity to get in digs, likely hoping to capitalize on some of that general distaste for the biggest social-media companies, and the echo chambers of information in which they tend to trap their customers.

For much of the more-than-a-year since Reddit's founders, Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian, returned full time to the company--Huffman at the helm and Ohanian as board chairman--they've been working to clean up Reddit's public image. They've installed a trust-and-safety team, and a separate "anti-evil" operation, internally. They've hired more than 100 staffers to beef up community management and development of technology to support the site's more users, which they claim number more than 350 million. And Ohanian has been delivering speeches and pitching advertisers on the power of the vast, diverse community of pseudonymous users. (More on that in a moment.)

Last week, at an on-stage event in Lisbon, Ohanian shrugged off a comparison of Reddit's upvoting mechanism to Twitter's hearts, which let a user denote a tweet is a "favorite," saying: "We're not going to take too many lessons from Twitter," he dismissed.

It wasn't the only Twitter dig he got in. He went on: "Hashtags are one of the greatest farces ever foisted upon us. No one follows them during a live event unless you want to see thousands of people shouting 'goal!' at the same time," Ohanian said. "The second screen really is happening on Reddit."

And later, at a backstage interview in Lisbon, Ohanian said, in terms of competition, "Facebook is the only company we think about."

According to The Telegraph, Ohanian said: "Reddit offers the opportunity for us, as humans, to connect on a much deeper, broader level because users have an alter ego and aren't tied to a social network of friends with whom they want to share how perfect their lives are."

This is where pseudonymity comes into play. On Reddit, users need no "real life" identity. They're free to choose any username they like. It could be their given name, sure, but it could also be "LasagnaPhD," "chillax_bro_im_jk," or "Your_Mom." The alter ego isn't so much "alter," however; Reddit users over time build up preferences, communities, and, well, a real sort of existence on the site. They have passions and tastes and influence. It just isn't the sort of hyper-manicured public existence one finds on Instagram or Facebook.

Users can easily manage multiple accounts, to keep their passions or hobbies separate. (One could argue Ken Bone should have done this before posting his AMA after the presidential debate in which he appeared.) This ability helps foster Reddit's role as a haven for free speech; a user could be well-known on one subreddit for organizing volunteer opportunities (say, on reddit.com/r/volunteer), and on another for offering up tips on DIY bong-making (say, on reddit.com/r/trees). Users can ask anonymously for help making financial or relationship decisions--and get life-changing answers. Or they can riff on advertisements.

Or they can voice marginalized opinions--and find a community. Over the past year, one of the very most active places on Reddit has been a subreddit known as r/The_Donald. It's the centerpiece of the pro-Donald Trump Reddit world, and an incredibly vocal and "high-energy" community. It's also a place that's gotten criticized for ties to the alt-right communities on Reddit, which have become known for fostering hate speech and anti-Semitism. (Harassment and inciting violence are prohibited on Reddit; moderators of individual pages, known as subreddits, can tailor their content policies beyond this.)

It's a steep challenge for Reddit to kick the association with hate speech, though. It was less than a year and a half ago that Reddit finally banned some of its most violently racist, borderline-child-porn-y communities.

That gets to the heart of Ohanian's stated ambitions: A pitch that Reddit is a cleaner, brighter place to post and lurk and hang out online, and that the company is working on its growing user base and on advertisers. (Lots of brands have their own subreddits of adoring users, and are now getting into advertising directly to them. See: Coca-Cola.)

Now, with its trust-and-safety team in place, its message about pseudonymity honed, and the election behind it--in which it got a minuscule fraction of the criticism Facebook did--Reddit is stepping up its competitive talk. Reddit: The nice guy who still talks smack? As a public image the founders are propagating, it might just stick.

Published on: Nov 14, 2016