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Everything’s a joke until it’s not

Reddit communities grow powerful in plain sight. Why do they keep taking the world by surprise?

January 30, 2021 / 09:39 AM IST
Representative image: Wall Street

Representative image: Wall Street

Read this in the little voice in your head and tell me it doesn’t sound familiar: Is this for real? It’s got to run out of steam. It can’t just keep going like this. How is this even happening?

What comes to mind? Maybe a recent event in politics, or perhaps a particular politician. A conspiracy theory that was treated as a punchline, then a nuisance, then a crisis. Maybe it’s something sillier — a whole new digital currency named after a meme. Perhaps then the voice in your head really wants to say, Why not? Let’s see where this goes.

You may have guessed that, right now, we’re talking about stocks.

Individual investors, many of them moved by calls to action on Reddit and other social platforms, have spent recent weeks aggressively buying up stock in GameStop, the struggling video game retailer, driving the price to extraordinary highs. On Jan. 28, 2020, it was treading at under $4; this year, on the same date, that number briefly exceeded $480. Thousands of traders, amateurish and sophisticated alike, made money, fast. Hedge funds that had bet against GameStop lost billions.