It’s hard to overstate how big the WallStreetBets group has gotten. With 8 million members — as of this writing, and the group is still growing — it’s as if 1 in every 40 Americans is standing in a giant room talking. And, at first glance, they’re speaking a foreign language.
Tendies, rocket ships, diamond hands — this is the language of WallStreetBets (WSB), the white-hot subreddit powering the GameStop (GME) frenzy on the stock market. Strings of rocket emojis signify how the group wants to send GME’s price “to the moon.” Users encourage each other to have “diamond hands” (represented in emojis, of course), a riff on the strength of diamonds and a user’s strength to last through big market swings.
They insult the “paper hands” who crumple and sell their shares at the first taste of money or scary drops. Commenters call themselves “degenerates” or “apes.” Reddit posts hype up how many “tendies” a person will get from their investments, a phrase that comes from old 4chan greentext stories about manchildren living in their mom’s basement. In the joke, a manchild relies on his mom for everything, throws tantrums, and is rewarded for good behavior with “Good Boy Points” (GBP), which he redeems for his favorite food: chicken tenders, a.k.a. “tendies.”
The group’s potential influence is enormous. So far, followers have created two original songs and bought emoji-covered billboards across the country touting their stock picks. Entrepreneurial heavyweights like Chamath Palihapitiya, Elon Musk, and Mark Cuban have stood up for WSB (Cuban even did a pep talk AskMeAnything in the subreddit on Tuesday morning). The news coverage is both constant and global. Oh, and there was that little stock rally. But what does it all mean?
I spoke with a dozen people, from WallStreetBets members to professors to human behavior analysts, to try to understand what makes up the unique culture of WSB and what the group might mean for society at large.
No group is a monolith, especially one of this size. There is a wide spectrum of opinions, beliefs, and experiences. The users I spoke to were quick to point out that the group’s dynamics have changed at light speed over the past two weeks.
For anyone wondering whether WSB is part of the alt-right or a harbor for neo-Nazis, it doesn’t appear that way. Although the subreddit’s controversial ex-founder — who was banned from the group for violating community rules himself — has accused moderators of racism off-site, after a week and dozens of hours spent on the forum, I haven’t seen any evidence of hate speech or alt-right imagery.
Political posts barely make it past the moderators, let alone political extremism, even with the recent massive influx of users. WallStreetBets’ language is crass and offensive, the humor is self-deprecating, and the culture is a little strange, but it is not an organizing ground for hate. Instead, what I found is a complex, multi-faceted group. There is mutual aid, gambling, inequality, community, creativity, masculinity, humor, humanity. It’s a microcosm of America.
Beyond the rocket ships, there are real stories
Like many GameStop retail investors, my week has been full of late nights, deep dives into Reddit, and obsessive stock chart checking. I don’t yet have diamond hands; I only just signed up for Robinhood, throwing $100 into GameStop stock at 2 am last Tuesday to see what happens. I felt the frustration of every canceled buy order, the anxiety of steep drops in the stock charts, and an odd affinity for a bunch of strangers on the internet.
I’m not a frequent Reddit user, and I thought the anonymity of the platform might bring out the worst in people. WallStreetBets often uses problematic language, but buried beneath piles of rocket emojis and cuckolding jokes and homophobic and ableist insults, there is some vulnerability and heart.
Jimmy Lee, a 20-year-old college student in Southern California and member of WallStreetBets, told me his GME holdings could help his family buy another car. Lee’s father is a janitor and his mother is out of work due to the pandemic. Depending on what happens with GME stock, his earnings may be the largest lump sum his parents, who moved from Vietnam after the war, have seen in their lives.
Tutu, a WSB member who requested that I refer to him by his nickname, reports turning his initial investment of $35,000 into almost $278,000 as of Sunday —…