Reddit vs. Wall Street: Stocks only go up until they don’t


The idea of earning profits, in-group exclusivity and a sense of power for the powerless are what have fueled the GameStop run to become a global phenomenon.

In late January, millions of members of the Reddit thread “r/WallStreetBets” agreed to collectively purchase Gamestop stocks, hoping that the buying activity would cause the stock price to rise. According to the New York Times, the value was up by a mind-boggling 134% on Jan. 27, causing Wall Street to lose $13 million. This event caused a chain reaction where the stocks of other businesses, such as AMC, were bought in substantial amounts. The Gamestop spike triggered the stock-trading and investing app Robinhood to place automatic halts on these businesses to protect against volatility. 

It was amusing to feel like part of a movement exerting power over the powerful while scrolling through “stonks” memes, but now it’s time to consider what this story says about the future of the stock market and the internet’s impact on communities. 

People who bought shares continue to receive backlash from others who claim that they “manipulated” the stock market. They seem to be oblivious to the fact that billionaires do the same thing regularly. Single individuals can have the same effect on stocks as millions of average people. Opposers of Reddit users’ hijinks are afraid of the internet’s ability to unite and empower individuals to tackle powerful institutions.

Traditionally, individual investors are no match for the highly-compensated analysts on Wall Street who buy and sell stocks for a living. However, the concept of “easy money” has lured investors into thinking that imaginary earnings are more beneficial than real results. 

Reddit’s influence was a wakeup call. Average people realized that by collaborating on the internet, they could force big hedge funds to buy more stocks to cover their positions and ultimately cause a rise in shares. They recognized that there’s never an absolute guarantee of profits—unless they manipulate the game themselves. Wall Street was not only angry about losing profits; it was mad that Reddit had eliminated the illusion.

But did these individuals benefit from using the internet as a source for collaboration, or were they just participating in an online trend? In many situations, people have purchased shares because “everyone was doing it,” and this story is no different. Millions of people with varying degrees of knowledge about the stock market all decided to buy Gamestop shares simply because lots of people on Reddit said it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Many of them still made money because they happened to have the right opportunity at the right time. That’s not investing, that’s gambling. 

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with gambling—as long as it’s not confused with investing. I applaud you if you just made bank. Free money is always desirable, especially when it’s the result of beating Wall Street brokers at their own game. This specific scenario was a great opportunity to make a quick buck. 

However, from this event, inexperienced traders could easily confuse investing with betting. Don’t confuse a bull market with genius: you’ve created a bubble, so someone will make a windfall. 

People who made money from their Gamestop stocks might feel as if investments are a stipulated source of finances, and individuals who lost money from their shares may get the impression that the stock market is designed to swindle cash from every unwary investor. This is not the case, as real investments are methodical choices, not last-minute decisions to hop on the bandwagon.

Whether or not you participated in the event, this story spreads an important message for everyone. The internet is making mass collaboration easier than ever before. This fact has, and will continue to, bring dramatic changes to society.

For example, the Black Lives Matter movement broadcasts messages opposing racism and unjust systems. “#MeToo” brought awareness and put an end to abuse in the lives of many. Millions of people all across the country were able to communicate due to the influence of social media, blogs and websites. 

It’s hard to say exactly what this new development could mean for the stock market, but now that the internet has given more power to average citizens through collaboration, we’re going to see change. Could the power of the internet allow amateur traders to vanquish some of Wall Street’s most sophisticated investors?

The idea of earning profits, in-group exclusivity and a sense of power for the powerless are what have fueled the GameStop run to become a global phenomenon.