WallStreetBets, GameStop, and the “Vortex of Distrust” Are Fueling the Stock Market

Everyone loves an underdog. But in 2012, when Jaime Rogozinski founded WallStreetBets, a noisy but resourceful subreddit dedicated to sharing the trials and tribulations of playing the stock market, he created an army of them.

Most Americans learned of that army’s might nearly a decade later, when it led one financial rebellion fended off Wall Street giants by buying large amounts of GameStop stock. Fueled by steadfast belief in the company’s promise, the Reddit army managed to send GameStop skyrocketing, to the point where Robinhood was forced to restrict trading in the stock. Ultimately, hedge funds like Melvin Capital abandoned their short positions while leaving behind significantly better average scores. It’s a David and Goliath story that has rocked the business press, exposed the dangers of parking cash at Robinhood and shed light on the retail investor’s newfound disruptive potential.

But the whole story about WallStreetBets, as well Nathaniel Popper writes in his new book, Wall Street scammers, started long before all of that. Popper, a former New York Times journalist who specializes in covering the intersection of finance and technology, argues that the movement has its roots in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis — a time, he writes, of “doubt and skepticism.” , in which lonely, lazy young men can find solace together in online transactions.

Speaking with Rogozinski as well as countless WallStreetBets moderators, Popper traces the community back to the stranger days, when members took out risky options contracts and were overjoyed to see the balance Their banks gradually decreased. Everything changed in 2013, when Robinhood—in many ways, dangerously—began to democratize the playing field for retail investors, leading to the subreddit’s transformation into a market accelerator official. As the web grew alongside the rise of divisive figures such as Donald Trump And Elon Musk, Managing its internal conflicts has proven a perpetual challenge, especially when it comes to hate speech and cryptocurrency. But the site was held together. And by February 2020, when COVID crashed the stock market—something many WallStreetBetters had leveraged to success—it became clear that this younger crowd of emerging investors was much more sophisticated than their ancestors their. “The new world of online money has created a host of self-described fraudsters and degenerates with unprecedented knowledge of the levers that make the economy work,” Popper wrote.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Edited for length and clarity, Popper talks about the “complex factors” behind the rise of WallStreetBets, why the Internet’s “law of attention” has insulated Robinhood from bad publicity, and its legacy of how the GameStop saga continues to animate the hottest trend in institutional trading. “The way the public thinks about [a] company today is critical to the financial success of that company,” he said. “There is a whole new element in the financial world that Wall Street did not expect.”

Vanity fair: What inspired you to write the book and what influenced your reporting process? I feel like with any subreddit, there’s just an endless amount of material online to sift through. So how do you decide who to talk to and what to choose?

Nathaniel Popper: This started out as a book about GameStop. And as I got deeper into it, I realized that Gamestop had too narrow a lens to look at this—that there was a much bigger story here that I and most people were missing. And it is a story of a generational shift in the way young people relate to markets, stocks and the world of finance. What I realized is that there’s a movement where young people have become part of youthful pop culture in a way that most people over 35 aren’t really aware of. Because you have this social media profile—all this documentation—you can tell the story of the growth of this community and this strange new online world in real time. It was like someone was there filming the whole thing going on. When I look around, I feel like not many people are taking advantage of the opportunity that social media provides to tell the history of these movements. It’s a really candid window into this whole world.


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