As the apex predators of capitalism, hedge funds are accustomed to raking in billions by driving companies into the ground and feasting on the carcasses. So there was widespread satisfaction last week when members of an online discussion group called WallStreetBets started beating the Wall Street bully boys at their own game. Ringleaders of the group noticed that hedge funds had taken a short position in the videogame retailer GameStop that far exceeded the number of shares available to trade. Motivated as much by revenge as by profit, these influencers in the group encouraged the 2.7 million members (since risen to around 8 million) to purchase the stock in order to drive the price higher and create a massive short squeeze. This quickly became a movement with a cause similar to that of Occupy Wall Street, except much more effective because it hit the intended target where they would feel it the most, in the wallet. “The only way to beat a rigged game,” one WallStreetBets leader said, “is to rig it even harder.”
GameStop stock, which closed at $17.69 a share on Jan. 8, shot up to $347.51 by the close last Wednesday. With combined losses of almost $20 billion, hedge funds were on the ropes and close to bleeding out, selling their longs in an increasingly futile effort to cover their shorts. One fund, Melvin Capital, lost over half its value and had to be bailed out by hedge fund sugar daddies Ken Griffin (Citadel) and Steve Cohen (Point 72). Another fund, Citron, was teetering on the brink of collapse. All this outsider army needed to win was the continued ability to communicate with each other online, and their collective ability to keep piling into the “Buy” side of the trade. Within hours, they would be hobbled on the first front and crippled on the second.
The Empire Strikes Back
First, the digital distribution platform Discord banned the WallStreetBets account after the close Wednesday for “hate speech, glorifying violence, and spreading misinformation.” (For a moment, it looked like Reddit had also banned the group, but they resisted pressure to do so.) If the quoted justification sounds familiar, it’s nearly identical to the one given by Google, Apple, and Amazon for deplatforming Parler just three weeks earlier. Echoing Amazon, Discord said it had sent the group repeated warnings about objectionable content before deciding, on that day of all days, to shut them down.
Meanwhile, WallStreetBets investors were locked out of their trading accounts by online brokers such as Robinhood on Thursday morning. Based on new collateral requirements that it says were imposed by an industry consortium, Robinhood forbade its users from buying GameStop and other stocks that WallStreetBets had identified as short squeeze opportunities. Users were allowed only to “close their positions”—in other words, to sell to the shorts desperate to buy. When angry users registered their disapproval by leaving over 100,000 one-star reviews of the Robinhood app in the Google Play Store, Google deleted them. – READ MORE
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