In January, stock traders on Reddit orchestrated a historic short squeeze for the stock of the video game merchandiser GameStop. The resulting run-up in the stock built massive paper fortunes and cost some of the hedge funds who shorted it billions of dollars. Members of Reddit’s WallStreetBets message board claimed their point was to take down the short sellers they saw as villains in the financial markets, while bringing thousands of other do-it-yourself investors along for the ride.

The truth is murkier. At its peak, GameStop soared from a 52-week low of $2.57 per share in the spring of 2020 to a peak of $483 per share in late January 2021.

The populist narrative took a new twist when, amid the high volumes, Robinhood and other do-it-yourself, commission-free trading apps began to restrict or forbid trading in GameStop and similarly traded stocks. Major retail brokerages like Schwab followed suit. Many of the WallStreetBets traders felt like something was amiss.

The squeeze began to unravel when GameStop fell back down under $49 a share by the second week of February. Subsequent attempts to squeeze short sellers in other securities, like shares of cinema operator AMC or silver in both its physical and ETF forms, fell flat. Nonetheless, billions of dollars in losses were inflicted upon firms like Citron Research and Melvin Capital.

“We still don’t know what the composition of these thousands or tens or hundreds of thousands of investors really are,” says Andrew Beer, a managing member of Dynamic Beta Investments, a liquid-alts manager running hedge fund replication strategies. “We do see a very vocal minority or subset of them, like we’ve seen in a lot of things in this country, calling this a revolt. The loudest, angriest person on social media tends to attract the most attention. I suspect that the vast majority of people who did this were just trying to make money.”

There’s a possibility that, rather than a populist uprising, the GameStop frenzy was old-fashioned market manipulation, but that truth is obscured by the relative anonymity of communities like WallStreetBets. A regulator review of trading data will help make clear where the craze started.

Most financial experts show little sympathy for short sellers caught in the squeeze—it can be hard to like the headstrong attitudes of many hedge fund traders and analysts (though the cocky, testosterone-fueled gamesmanship of many WallStreetBets traders might seem little different). Still, the idea that the GameStop short squeeze was a revolt of the small investor against elite hedge fund traders was enough to persuade thousands of additional investors to open long positions in the stock, and that enriched the earliest investors in the trade. Many traders who opened early long positions and won paper fortunes were still encouraging their peers to buy the stock as it soared past $450 per share.

The picture of populist revolt changes upon closer inspection. The WallStreetBets and other social media trading communities are often full of overwhelmingly young, male and white participants. The atmosphere in the communities is full of bravado and braggarts, the same as it might be in the high-stakes room of a casino.

And in fact, many of the WallStreetBets members, including some of the instigators of the GameStop short squeeze, appear to be quite sophisticated, though the relative anonymity of internet communities makes it difficult to tell where messages are really coming from.

“There are plenty of people on WallStreetBets with access to Bloomberg terminals and who are trading multi-million-dollar portfolios, and you can see that expertise reflected in a lot of the due diligence threads,” says J.P. Lee, a product manager at investment company VanEck. “For another thing, this GameStop trade was a matter of discussion all the way back in June and July of last year. While it hit the media in a huge way over the past few weeks [in late January and early February 2021], it was known on WallStreetBets for months and months, if not years.”

In the aftermath of the squeeze, it appears there were hedge funds and other professional investors on both sides of the trade. Whoever they were, they were able to find publicly disclosed information about major short positions and exploit them for their financial gain.

In fact, traditional financial publications had been writing about WallStreetBets since the latter half of 2019, if not earlier, where the GameStop frenzy had its origins in posts by Reddit user “DeepF**kingValue” and YouTuber “Roaring Kitty.” Both names turned out to belong to Keith Patrick Gill, a former financial advisor and MassMutual marketing staffer holding CFA marks.

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