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Reddit’s Profane, Greedy Traders Are Shaking Up the Stock Market

Chatter on message boards is reshaping the options market and sparking wild rallies.
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Illustration: Matija Medved for Bloomberg Businessweek

In a dingy corner of the internet is a message board, soaked in profanity, bro-speak, and greed, where posters with handles such as OverthrowYourMasters and yolo_tron campaign for their favorite stocks, putting up screenshots from their online brokerage accounts of their moonshot victories—or showing off their massive losses like badges of honor. Some of them think they’ve found the key to fast wins on the stock market. Wall Street doubts they’re right, but it’s getting nervous about what it sees there.

History hasn’t been kind to people claiming to have a magic hand. The latest sell-off, driven by a new wave of coronavirus fears, shows how quickly markets can turn on you. But even veteran traders have trouble dismissing a 900,000-user Reddit forum called r/wallstreetbets, or r/WSB for short, whose tips and tactics have shown an uncanny ability to push prices, at least for the short term. Hitherto sleepy companies such as Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. and Plug Power Inc. went crazy shortly after being mentioned there. The board may have added a little froth to Tesla Inc.’s $90 billion rally.