Over the past week, stocks in GameStop, AMC theaters, and a multitude of other seemingly fading companies have soared in value. For stockbrokers and traders, these massive price hikes seem like an anomaly — but those plugged into the online forum Reddit aren't shocked. The spikes follow a targeted wave of enthusiasm aiming to boost the stock valuations from members of the subreddit r/wallstreetbets.
For many, the GameStop rally might be the first time they've heard of the community, but r/wallstreetbets is actually a relatively old subreddit with deep ties to internet culture.
The language used on posts in the community can be crude and boorish — they describe themselves as "autists" and proudly exclaim how little they know about the market. But if you can move past the crass outer shell, you can find an almost-coherent community of like-minded individuals who want to flip off the hedge fund managers and make money for the little guy.
r/WallStreetBets has become a new training ground for would-be investors, aided by apps like Robinhood and WeBull that allow anyone with a bank account to become a trader. But how did this sub grow to nearly 5 million self-described "degenerates" and inspire scrutiny from the SEC?
The WallStreetBets subreddit was created in 2012 by Jaime Rogozinski while he was working as an information technology consultant for the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, DC according to the Wall Street Journal. The 39-year-old who lives in Mexico City found that while visiting internet forums in the early 2010s, he would be told by fellow investors that his investing style "akin to gambling" wasn't going to work out.
"When I created the sub, I was looking for a community, a place for people to talk about high-risk trades in an unapologetic way for people to make some short term money with disposable income," Rogozinski told TMZ Live on Wednesday. "The progression of WallStreeBets throughout the years has been nothing short of amazing."
Over the next few years, r/wallstreetbets remained fairly small and niche. According to subreddit stats, the sub didn't break 100,000 subscribers until 2017. During these early years, the sub was still trying to find its identity but it still had notable events.
Martin Shkreli, the "pharma bro" who is serving a seven-year prison sentence for securities fraud, was a common voice on the sub and a moderator. In June 2016, he proposed a ban on the word "YOLO," meaning "you only live once" because the "term undermines the central point of investing" and "this 'roll the dice' mentality is amateurish: I have never heard it in 15 years on Wall Street."
The "YOLO" mentality of buying whatever is a crucial theme on the sub and is still commonly seen today.
By 2020, the sub had ballooned to over a million subscribers and was full of novice traders sharing their gains, losses, and memes. Rogozinski published a book about his experience in January and in March announced the "Wall Street Bet Championship." This trading competition was to be held at the Esports Stadium Arlington and featured 12 contestants that would each put in $50,000. The event was sponsored by the True Trading Group, with moderator StormWillPass posting that users that want to talk "negatively" about the company will be "banned."
This caused quite a bit of drama on the sub, with users finding connections between the moderators and the True Trading Group. According to the Daily Dot, moderator Arigold212855 appeared to admit in a leaked private message that "TTG gave WSB 6 figures to back them" and that they are a "part owner of TTG." In April of 2020, the sub mysteriously went private only for it to unprivate itself briefly to post a message from the moderators.
"WSB has been liberated," wrote mod ITradeBaconFutures. "The OG mods are working to get the band back together with those that were run off."
According to a message posted on the WallStreetBets Discord, Rogozinski had been removed as a moderator because "he was found to be attempting to sell rights to the subreddit to a cut-rate trading team called 'True Trading Group.'" When users tried to visit the sub, the message confirmed the founder's ousting.
There's no record the Wall Street Bets Championship took place after the controversy.
With an unshackled group of moderators, r/WallStreetBets was about to reach entirely new heights.
By mid-2020, constant posts about money made from Tesla trades and meme stocks, investments made that don't make sense by traditional metrics but simply catch-on online, created a new gold rush, where users wanted to jump on that bandwagon to financial stability. User ETHBAGHOLDER claimed that they turned $3,000 into $102,000 by taking investment advice from the sub. Another user, osbetel, claimed he turned $5,000 into over $300,000 by investing in Tesla. Deepf---ingValue has become a bit of a folk hero, posting daily updates on his "YOLO" stocks that he says he's invested nearly a million dollars into.
By December of 2020, the sub had grown to 1.8 million subscribers and was full of screenshots of the app Robinhood, one of the more popular apps used to invest.
In January 2021, with the pandemic raging and financial instability abound, the sub grew to previously unimaginable heights. It gained over two million subscribers in a few days and, and now has the most comments and posts created in one day on the entirety of Reddit according to subredditstats.
Thousands of new users flocked to the sub after users successfully popped the valuation of several stocks, including GameStop. Last week, GameStop stock was worth $40 but due to the purchasing efforts of the members of r/wallstreetbets, it ballooned to a high of $492. Purchasing power usually reserved for hedge funds was now in the hands of the people.
The subreddit's Discord server was banned on Wednesday, with the company telling The Verge that they "decided to remove the server and its owner from Discord for continuing to allow hateful and discriminatory content after repeated warnings."
"We're suffering from success and our Discord was the first casualty. You know as well as I do that if you gather 250k people in one spot someone is going to say something that makes you look bad," mod zjz wrote in a post after the ban. "Discord did us dirty and I am not impressed with them destroying our community."
The sub has now gone mainstream, with even their idol Elon Musk tweeting about WallStreetBets. Robinhood and other trading apps have halted trading on GameStop stocks and the traditional world of money is having to come to terms with this ragtag group of users changing the shape of modern investing.