Music Editor Robbie Hawken talks to students involved in the GameStop stock frenzy which undermined Wall Street traders, revealing how the online community worked together to demand accountability
Student debt is something that every student jokes about. It is a problem not for today but for the future. The prospect of paying it off is something that feels decades away. But that is not true for all. Imagine having the possibility of paying off your debt, or at least large sums, and not taking it. It is this staggering ideological commitment that has taken me off guard in the recent GameStop stock story.
If you are unaware of the basics of the situation, it is explained wonderfully in this article by Dashiell Wood for Redbrick, which explains stock shorting and why GameStop was chosen as a target. In short, hedge funds were making bets that the stocks of a company would fall, in this case, GameStop and others like AMC. However, users from reddit page r/wallstreetbets discovered this and massively raised the price, making them money and almost bankrupting the hedge fund that was making the bets.
Far from the portrayals of the stock market and Wall Street in films and popular culture, this story is about ‘ordinary’ people: people, who were often able to make vast sums of money almost overnight. However, talking to students involved with r/wallstreetsbets has been revealing.
When I first read of this story, I imagined that this was about people making quick money and getting out, but a far deeper sense of community emerged from my interviews. As one student, Jack told me, this movement had a ‘purpose beyond the financial.’ He explained that this was about trying to hold the super-rich accountable when they are often left off. ‘The purpose is to unify a bunch of individuals behind a collective goal of holding these people accountable for just once, and even if it is just once, it shows that it is possible.’
Jack was not alone in this feeling. All the students I spoke to felt that their actions were about far more than profit, despite doing different courses, having different friend groups, and being from different backgrounds.
From outside of r/wallstreetbets it is easy to assume that people are in it for their own benefit, as I did at first, but the reality is a more heart-warming one. The opportunity for personal profit for most is an extra incentive, while the real goal is, as Jack states, accountability. Stumbling upon the subreddit is a strange thing. The page is not a serious financial center. It is more of a financial meme page with a side hobby of trying to take down hedge funds and is hardly the all-seeing mastermind of financial destruction that some paint it to be. Indeed, like Georgia, another UoB student told me, she had originally joined the page thinking it was a joke. However, once the investment in GameStop had begun, she found that a real strong sense of community had been fostered, with people encouraging each other not to sell so as to maintain the high stock prices. She seemed unphased by the prospect of losing money and instead spoke with excitement about ‘making a change … this will probably make history because this is the first time anything has ever done like’ this. Again, this selflessness and belief in the cause is what comes across most clearly.
Crucially, out of all the numerous people I spoke to, only one had sold his stocks, and his reasoning was that he felt market interference was inevitable, and he was not far off the mark as apps like Robinhood began to prevent the buying of stocks like GameStop and AMC. He criticised the decision, saying that these companies are happy to make money when it suits them but pulled out all the stops when a financial company was threatened. Besides this justified concern, sending a message appeared to be the main aim of those who held on. One reddit user I spoke to even told me that he sees members of his community as a ‘band of brothers’.
This was confirmed to me when I spoke to another reddit user, who had posted on the page that in the aftermath of GameStop stocks rising so hugely that he could pay off his school debts and avoid deportation. He kindly agreed to speak to me, but his first message to me left a lasting impression on the commitment of those behind this movement. He told me that he had not sold his stocks and out of the $20,000 he made, he had lost over 60% and could no longer afford to pay his school fees.
This seemed insane to me. Leaving a life-changing amount of money on the table. I asked him about the situation and his explanation made things clear. He told me that he had recently lost a significant amount of money on Tesla stock due to a crash, but ‘I took the blame and kept living’. However, when he saw how the hedge funds reacted to losing money and the actions of apps like Robinhood, he felt compelled to hold onto his stocks to try and keep the price high, to their detriment. ‘Now, it’s just solely out of spite.’
This case confirmed the double-sided nature of this situation. On one side there is an immense sense of community, on the other, resentment, anger, and a motivation to see some form of justice.
The question of how this situation ends is a difficult one. One student, Connor told me that he feared some of the reddit ringleaders could face punishment for market manipulation as well as the potential shutdown of r/wallstreetbets. Another, Andy simply told me that this situation would end ‘not well’. The majority of the students I asked echoed this sense of little optimism.
Despite this pessimism, there is no doubt that this has been a monumental event. The wonderful sense of community crafted, immune to financial losses, is something which, despite pessimism for the future, shines through.
Imagine losing the worth of your school fees. Unfathomable.
I would like to thank all the students who spoke to me, your contribution to this article has been invaluable.
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