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What Does ‘GameStonk’ Mean For Democracy?

By now, you’ll probably have scrolled through more than your fair share of posts, Twitter threads and articles attempting to explain the meaning of shorts, hedge funds and maybe even ‘Diamond Hands’ like some Margot Robbie wannabes.

So, we’ll skip all that. Instead, this article will explore the question: What does all this mean for the future of politics and this thing we like to call democracy?

Democratising finance for all?

Apps like Robinhood, the one many Redditors used to make transactions on the stock market, claim to ‘democratise’ finance. They offer a zero-commission model which mean amateurs don’t have to pay a fee to their service when making transactions. This is a relatively new business model for investment firms and was certainly a driving force for the events that culminated in the mania of the past few days. By empowering masses of ‘amateur’ brokers these services could be said to realise the idea of Dollar Voting, using your choice as a consumer or investor to govern the actions of businesses. In a world where the lines between political parties and corporations is ever blurring, and in which the will of the markets often seems to overrule the will of the people, this development could represent a genuine political change. However, the past few days have shown that the company name Robinhood could be more ironic than Little John’s. The firm has been accused of market manipulation after restricting transactions of shares in GameStop and several other securities. Perhaps more importantly it has been accused of siding with the wealthy elite who use and manage hedge funds, by restricting the power of the masses it claimed to embolden. Many have held Robinhood to account, some filing lawsuits against the company, and the firm has since promised to restore GameStop trading. Robinhood’s ordeal may prevent other firms making the same mistake they did and stay true to their ‘mission to democratise finance for all’.

Not about Left or Right

Two of the loudest voices speaking up against Robinhood’s choice to restrict trading were from very different sides of the political spectrum. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Donald Trump Jr both voiced their opinions on Twitter. AOC (whose husband is almost definitely a Redditor) revelled in morally dubious Wall Streeters getting a taste of their own medicine; whilst Trump Jr pointed to the attempts to protect hedge funds as evidence of a rigged system.

This has caused several media outlets and social media usersto speculate on what the political motivations of the movement might be. A small few have suggested the Reddit traders are, wittingly or not, being driven by the alt-right. This isn’t surprising. For a long time, general trolling has been conflated with the actions of the alt-right, who often use similar methods to further a certain agenda. This leads to many users on sites like Reddit and 4-chan being painted with the same brush. Others have viewed the actions of Redditusers on the forum r/WallStreetBets as a struggle against the wealthy elite, especially those who gamble with the livelihood of your average person, protected by the right-wing politicians and a belief in power of the market. It’s debatable whether the forum actually had such concrete political intentions. Rather, it seems that these Redditor’s actions have very little to dowith everyday party politics, and everything to do with the populist trend we have seen in the years since 2015. People are understandably tired of their voices not being heard. So, they seek new means of amplifying their discontent, with varying degrees of success and consequence; be that electing populist leaders, protesting in hi-vis jackets, voting against the will of the elite, or causing mayhem in the stock market. Perhaps, this is the most direct representation of the discontent of the masses to date.

Enter Elon…

As we’ve seen in the past, so-called populist movements on the right, the left and nowhere in particular, are often in search of a figurehead. A leader with power, that represents them and voices their grievances. The problem is, they often come with agendas of their own, that don’t always benefit the masses. Elon Musk has for a long time found a fanbase in the wider Reddit community. But this popularity, which like many things on Reddit is often hard to discern from pure meme potential, has never been on show quite like now. Elon (who has his own grievances with big-time short sellers following a number of major hedge funds betting against his company, Tesla, last year) voiced his support for the Redditor’s in a tweet, calling short selling a scam. 

Some might see Elon Musk as an odd choice as figurehead, especially those who view this all as crusade against the wealthy elite; he did, after all, recently become the world’s richest person. Nonetheless, he seems to have been elected, some might argue self-elected, as a de facto leader in this mania. He was ‘hanging out’ on the r/WallStreetBets Discord server, and he fought the subreddit’s corner when Discord banned the server. It was one of his tweets that gave this article its name; the tweet simply read ‘GameStonk!!’. If these events do go beyond Reddit and take on more concrete political intentions, it will be interesting to see whether Elon Musk has a hand in deciding what they are, and whether they’re in the best interest of the people who made this possible.

But for now, all we can really do is sit back and enjoy the chaos, and all the memes it spawns.

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