Quest for Hollywood Fame Splits Redditors at Heart of Market Frenzy
Late on Wednesday, a moderator of the popular Reddit message board WallStreetBets posted several screenshots on the chat app Discord. They showed that other moderators had quietly started talking among themselves about landing a movie deal.
“What’s our cut?” one of the moderators had asked in a Discord chat, according to the screenshots.
By Thursday morning, that quest for Hollywood riches had exploded into an ugly battle, giving a glimpse into the unruly nature of a suddenly famous Reddit community.
That was when the WallStreetBets moderators who were considering the film deal began booting out other moderators who had questioned them for secretly trying to profit from the forum’s success. Eventually, employees at Reddit weighed in to try to quell the unrest.
“Can you all discuss with me what is going on?” a Reddit employee with the screen name sodypop asked, according to screenshots of the conversation shared with The New York Times.
The WallStreetBets fight is the latest twist in the saga of an online army of investors who have roiled Wall Street over the past 10 days. Fueled by posts on the message board, where participants urged one another to buy the stock of the video-game retailer GameStop, the company’s shares went on an extraordinary run. The market frenzy entrapped hedge funds that had bet against GameStop’s stock, a populist move that soon captured mainstream imagination.
GameStop’s shares have since gyrated wildly. On Thursday, the stock plunged 42 percent.
The chaos has put a spotlight on WallStreetBets, which has been on Reddit since 2012 and which millions use to trade stock tips and chat about specific investments. Once the GameStop mania began last month, millions more joined the message board. At one point, the forum’s settings were set to private — meaning that posts could not be publicly viewed — because it was so overwhelmed by the flood of attention.
By Thursday afternoon, WallStreetBets had over 8.5 million members, the vast majority of whom had joined in the wake of GameStop.
“It’s definitely huge,” Nick Cormier, 35, a Los Angeles resident who has been a regular lurker on WallStreetBets for most of the last four years, said of the influx of new users and attention. “The amount even this past week has been astronomical.”
Moderators, who handle the day-to-day management of the online community, are central to all Reddit boards. On a volunteer basis, they sift through thousands of comments, bar users who break the rules and draft guidelines. Some moderators also build custom technology, such as automated bots, to help the group run more smoothly. The number of WallStreetBets moderators has fluctuated over time, but in recent weeks there have been a few dozen.
Reddit did not immediately have a comment.
WallStreetBets was founded in 2012 by Jaime Rogozinski, 39, an information technology consultant in Mexico City.
“I was looking for a community, a place for people to talk about high-risk trades in an unapologetic way for people to make some short-term money with disposable income,” he told TMZ last month.
But by early last year, Mr. Rogozinski was struggling to remain in control. He became embroiled in a controversy over ties to a trading group that had sponsored an event for the message board, leading to accusations of insider trading and biased stock promotion. Last April, Mr. Rogozinski and his allies in the community were ousted.
Now WallStreetBets is struggling to deal with the sudden publicity over the GameStop saga.
Over the last week, several top moderators, who have administrative control of the message board, met in a private chat room on Discord to discuss the business opportunities arising from their sudden fame.
One moderator said he was in touch with Ben Mezrich, an author of the book that became the movie “The Social Network,” who last week secured deals to write a book and help with a movie about the GameStop saga, according to screenshots from the forum shared with The Times.
“Oof we gotta go fast i think,” another moderator wrote back. “While the studios are competing.”
None of the six moderators The Times interviewed were willing to give their real names, but The Times verified the people were in control of the board’s moderator accounts.
The conversation heated up after Mr. Rogozinski announced that he had sold the rights to his own story to a movie studio this week. Mr. Rogozinski did not respond to requests for comment.
One longtime moderator of the group, known as zjz, saw the conversation and took issue. He posted images of the conversation in a broader chat room for all the moderators.
“We suddenly find out these formerly inactive moderators are trying to *literally* sell the story of how they built the subreddit and undermine us,” zjz wrote in an email to The Times.
In a post to WallStreetBets on Wednesday night, which was quickly removed, zjz also wrote: “We’ve been taken hostage by the top mods. They left for years and came back when they smelled money.”
That led to escalating recriminations and insults that soon went beyond a movie deal. Some began criticizing the top moderators for moves they had made to raise their profile, like creating a Twitter account and hiring a public relations representative. Some also made death threats.
Late Wednesday and early Thursday, the top moderators began removing lower-ranking moderators who were asking questions.
When reached on their new Twitter account, the top moderators said they wanted to strike a movie deal, but were planning to give any proceeds to charity.
“Them trying to make it look like we are cash grabbing is so dishonest,” the moderators wrote.
The top moderators said that the battle was also rooted in their desire to modernize the board, given all the new people who have begun using it. Opposing moderators like zjz, they said, wanted to keep the more homespun feeling of what WallStreetBets used to be.
“It’s been his life’s work and he’s afraid it will change essentially,” the moderators said.
On this, at least, the two sides were aligned.
“This was our clubhouse with all our friends where we let loose and were honest about being in it for the money, but not being in it to sell each other anything,” zjz wrote by email.
On Thursday afternoon, Reddit stepped in to remove the top WallStreetBets moderators. They put the moderators who had sided with zjz back in control, though zjz himself was not restored.
Mr. Cormier, who has been unemployed since March when he lost his job in a shop specializing in the game Magic the Gathering, said he was dismayed by the fighting on WallStreetBets.
He feared the forum would splinter, making it all but impossible to launch the kind of coordinated effort that had generated such a spectacular market reaction last week.
“If they kill WallStreetBets, then it’s going to be really tough to restart this effort,” he said.
www.nytimes.com 2021-02-05 00:49:22