What can we say about the people posting in the Reddit forum that tied down giants of finance?
On the Internet, nobody knows if you’re a dog. Especially on Reddit, where everyone goes by opaque usernames. This has added a layer of mystery to the bizarre story of how members of r/WallStreetBets caused chaos in financial markets.
Over the course of one month, members of the forum – known only by usernames like u/DeepFuckingValue and u/socialist_baby – together pushed up the value of struggling brick-and-mortar retailer GameStop’s shares by over 1,700 per cent.
In the weeks since the start of the GameStop surge, newcomers have flocked to the r/WallStreetBets forum on Reddit pushing its subscriber count from 1.8 million at the start of 2021 to now well over 9 million. People want in. But what, exactly, is the group that these people are clamouring to join?
In the past few weeks, the real people behind a small number of Reddit usernames came out to tell their story. u/DeepFuckingValue, it emerged, is actually a Boston-based dad called Keith Gill. He has a passion for track sports.
But beyond the few who have chosen to talk to the press, there remains little information about exactly who is behind the WallStreetBets forum and what drives them. But while Reddit is anonymous, the data on millions of posts and comments are readily available online. With it, we can piece together a picture of where else they spend time online.
Pulling this data together, we can see some patterns: the core members of r/WallStreetBets are, perhaps unsurprisingly, interested in other investing forums. They seem to consume a lot of memes and are interested in video games, sports, tech and weed. Our analysis of the companies they talk about most shows their stock-picking follows their hobbies. And while political conversation is banned on r/WallStreetBets itself, they do not keep their political views to themselves elsewhere.
Where the Wallstreetbetters hang out
r/WallStreetBets is one of the thousands of communities on Reddit, known as “subreddits” – each centred around a theme. To understand the forum, we first pulled together a sample of just over 2,000 WallStreetBetters whose posts best reflected the tone of the forum.
They were chosen because they had achieved highly rated posts on the forum in the two years since the start of 2019. These people were leading the forum’s thinking (and joking). We then gathered data on where else they have been active on Reddit. In total we collected data on over 3 million comments.
The result reveals a picture of a community whose most prominent members have interests beyond finance – in sports, politics, conspiracy theories, cannabis, Tesla and memes.
Our data shows that these leading Wall Street Betters are keenly political. Around four in ten are active in r/politics, a subreddit which is hard to parse. It has a reputation for a leftward tilt – but it has also been a subreddit which new users were placed into by default, so it is hard to read too much into.
A minority are particularly active in conservative subreddits: 1 in 9 of the sample had at some point commented in r/The_Donald, a pro-Trump meme page that was banned last year for consistently breaking Reddit’s rules around harassment and hate speech.
Once you exclude the default groups, it was the 5th most popular subreddit from our group of posters . In addition, around one in six had commented in politicalhumour, a subreddit with the tagline “quality conservative memes”.
We also found that 1 in 20 of our posters had commented in “neoliberal,” a subreddit that describes its raison d’etre as the pursuit of neoliberalism “against new threats posed by the populist left and right”.
Taken altogether – it is unclear what to make of the balance of redditors’ engagement with politics, beyond concluding that there is a lot of it.
Another well-liked subreddit where 1 in 7 of our commenters were active is “conspiracy”, which describes itself as “a thinking ground” that hopes to “challenge issues which have captured the public’s imagination, from JFK and UFOs to 9/11”. We found a combined total of over 12,000 comments from our sample in the forum.
Beyond politics and conspiracy, meme pages are clearly very important to the WallStreetBetters. Over 1 in 5 had commented in the subreddit “memes”, which racked up 8,000 comments in total, and a similar share had commented in “r/DankMemes”. Both are popular meme pages on reddit, but the latter is slightly smaller, with the term “dank” meaning “less mainstream”. Another much-frequented subreddit was r/MemeEconomy, which is dedicated to helping people make their own memes – in which 1 in 11 Wall Street Betters were found to have commented.
As well as meme-making, we found that their hobbies include video games, sports and tech. 1 in 13 of our sample had commented in a subreddit dedicated to the video game League of Legends, while the popularity of the subreddit “r/Build a PC” also speaks to an interest in tech. Sports were another common thread, with subreddits including “r/Hockey”, “r/NFL”, “r/NBA” and “r/Soccer” all included in the top 30 subreddits by total number of comments outside the defaults.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the main hobby that emerged was investment and stock-picking. Financial subreddits that were highly frequented by Wall Street Betters include “r/Stocks” and “r/Bitcoin”. The subreddit “r/Weedstocks” was popular, too.
A notable pattern that emerges is a particular fondness for Tesla. Excluding the subreddits which every use is signed up by default when they join Reddit, the top 30 subreddits included “r/Teslainvestorsclub”, which is dedicated to “serious discussion” on Tesla and “r/Teslamotors”, an “unofficial forum of owners and enthusiasts” where 1 in 12 members of our WallStreetBets elite group had posted.
This is fitting with the language around Tesla on the forum, which veers between in-depth discussion on business strategy and fan-boy admiration of Elon Musk. One top-rated post from the end of December reads “Just a friendly reminder! Just here to remind you that Papa Musk once made a meme so epic he was fined $40,000,000. No real reason I’m posting. Have a good day!” – a comment that refers to the time Musk was fined by the Securities and Exchange Commision for posting a tweet that misled investors about a supposed plan to buy out the company from its shareholders.
Another user promised to get a tattoo saying “Daddy Musk” if Tesla stock hit $900 by the start of March 2020 (something which did actually happen).
Talking about Tesla
Tesla, indeed, was the most discussed stock on the forum prior to 2021.
We wrote a programme that went through all the posts made on the main WallStreetBets forum in 2019 and 2020, in addition to half a million comments on the forum’s “daily discussion” threads. The programme used a list of ticker symbols and natural language processing to pull out what it guessed were company names, finding around 250,000 instances where we can be reasonably confident that posters were talking about identifiable companies.
There has been a lot of focus on stocks favoured by the Wall Street Betters that have been distorted by their interest – dubbed “meme stocks”. Beyond GameStop, the best-known meme stocks include AMC Entertainment, a struggling cinema group and BlackBerry, the tech company that has long been in decline.
Like GameStop, these consisted of unloved companies that caught the eye of Wall Street Betters after hedge funds had betted against them. Over the past month they have followed a similar, if less pronounced, surge in stock price to GameStop.
But our data, which tracked discussions through 2019 and 2020, found that these companies were relatively little discussed by the forum prior to this year. Much more of their attention focussed on much more traditional stocks.
They also paid a lot of attention to US interest rates: the programme picked up a lot of interest in what it guessed was a company called “the Fed” and another called “JPOW”. These are references to the Federal Reserve, the US central bank, and Jerome Powell, its chair.
Beyond a fascination with Tesla, the big picture is very clear: the long-term WallStreetBets posters are interested in tech companies. The most commonly mentioned stock after GameStop and Tesla was Apple, while Microsoft and Amazon also received high interest. Palantir, the data company, had amongst the highest number of mentions. There is also a persistent interest at a low level in investing in cannabis.
There are clear links between the subreddits where the Wall Street Betters spend their time and the companies they obsess over. Discussion on the fantasy sports and betting company Draft-Kings, for instance, neatly links to their interests in sports. It’s also easy to join the dots between their active presence on gaming subreddits and an interest in gaming-related stocks like Nvidia and GameStop.
It is still not very clear who they are: their politics remains a little opaque. But the WallStreetBetters are betting what they know: sports, tech, cars and weed.