Robinhood App Decides To Stop Helping The Poor Steal From The Rich

from the everything-is-a-content-moderation-story dept

I had been meaning to do another story on the whole GameStop/Reddit/WallStreetBets story, because there’s a lot of really fascinating points on this, but my original story got pretty much wiped away this morning when Robinhood, the popular stock trading app that promotes itself as a way of democratizing stock trading and providing free trades — and which was the main app used by Redditors to drive up the prices of various stocks that a bunch of hedge funds were trying to short — announced that it was blocking the trades in all of the volatile stocks that Redditors were driving up. It did so in the most ridiculous of statements, claiming that they were pausing buying of those stocks to “[help] our customers navigate this uncertainty.”

Amid significant market volatility, it?s important as ever that we help customers stay informed. That?s why we?re committed to providing people with educational resources. We recently revamped and expanded Robinhood Learn to help people take advantage of the hundreds of financial resources we offer and educate themselves, including how to make sense of a volatile market. In 2020, more than 3.2 million people read our articles through Robinhood Learn.

We?re committed to helping our customers navigate this uncertainty. We fundamentally believe that everyone should have access to financial markets. We?re humbled to have helped many people invest in the markets for the first time. And we?re determined to provide new and experienced investors with the tools and resources to help them invest responsibly for their long-term financial futures.

Bull and Shit. The people buying into this stuff didn’t need help “navigating this uncertainty.” This was a protest. This actually was what happens when you “democratize finance” and stop letting the big giant firms abuse the system for profit. And it turns out that that’s not what Robinhood really wanted after all.

As incredible as it seems, it turns out that even this is a content moderation story.

Also, I can pretty much guarantee that Robinhood is going to be hit with a whole bunch of class action lawsuits, probably before the day is out. (Actually, they were hit by lawsuits before even this post was out!)

Many people have recognized that while there’s a lot going on here, at least some of what’s happening is legitimately smaller individual investors giving a big giant “fuck you” to the big Wall Street hedge funds that were treating the market as a plaything with which to get ever richer. I heard someone jokingly note yesterday that Reddit and Robinhood together accounted for more wealth distribution from the rich to the poor in the past week than the Democratic Party has in years.

And, like every other time that gatekeepers’ walls are knocked down, the gatekeepers freak out. This is Hollywood freaking out about Napster all over again. Yesterday the big news was that Discord banned the r/WallStreetBets server, which was where many of the Redditors were gathering (outside of Reddit). The company claimed — somewhat ridiculously — that the ban was for hate speech on the server. But the timing of it made that look like a very weak fig leaf. Considering how many gamers use Discord (its original target market), I can assure you that other servers have a lot more hate speech than the WallStreetBets one did.

Then, last night, we had the totally expected old school “Hollywood reacting to Napster” response when NASDAQ’s CEO, Adena Friedman, said that they should halt trading in GameStop and the other targeted stocks to allow investors to “recalibrate their positions.”

Funny how they never seem to do that when it’s retail investors losing their investments.

As with other situations, the events of the past few days only serve to underline how the system itself is rigged to help the big guys on Wall Street, and the second that everyone else figures out how to game the system themselves, the gatekeepers freak out and look to reassert control.

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Companies: discord, gamestop, reddit, robinhood

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Comments on “Robinhood App Decides To Stop Helping The Poor Steal From The Rich”

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82 Comments
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Bloof (profile) says:

Sorry guys, you’re at the stage of your winning streak playing roulette at the mafia run casino where the pit boss drags you away, bans you and tries to force you out without collecting your full winnings as you broke the unwritten rule: You’re not meant to go there and win. You’re meant to go, pump money in and occasionally get a few pennies from the machine to keep your hope alive.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: slight correction

the company that runs robinhood is also the company that bailed out the one of the firms that had a billion dollar short position in Gamestop.

The headliners I’ve seen listed Melvin Capital as the bail-ee, and Citadel and Point72 being bail-ers. Are these the companies you are referring to? I could find no link (in idle google searching) between those two hedge funds and Robinhood. More details, please?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: slight correction

Citadel bought rights to get the order-flow. It means they get the orders coming in split milliseconds before RobinHood attempts to fulfill them, which allows them to possibly front-run the orders.

Quick take on front-running as I understand it — order is for StockA for $1, Citadel buys the stock for $1 and sells it on to the person who ordered it for $1.01 (since most transactions are "give me the best price nearest dollar value") and pockets $0.01 on the transaction without any risk. Do this a few billion times and you can get rich.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 slight correction

I don’t know whether it’s considered insider trading per se, but Robinhood paid $65 million to the SEC just last month, for "failing to satisfy its duty to seek the best reasonably available terms to execute customer orders" (and also failing to disclose the payments, although I don’t think additional fine print in an EULA would have helped anyone).

PeterScott (profile) says:

Reality check needed on this.

While I love that some hedge funds are feeling the pain, you have to recognize that many retail investors that drove up the stock price, will have bought in at very inflated prices, and many of them will be left holding the bag when it comes crashing back to earth.

Also likely that many instigators of this mass buy in, that were doing this to enrich themselves at the expense of late coming retail investors (and future bag holders) that they exhorted to drive the price up.

PeterScott (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I am more concerned with retail investors getting screwed when the house of cards collapses.

I thought I was pretty clear on that.

This is being painted as a victimless crime since it’s only hedge funds getting hurt, but in reality a lot of small retail investors are likely going to get burnt as well when the inevitable collapse happens.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

A lot of the posts I have seen floating on Reddit say things like "Only spend what you are prepared to lose." That makes it clear that this is not small investors who will unwittingly be hurt, but instead ones who are intentionally bearing some small pain en masse to give a big middle finger to wall street.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

"It’s hopelessly naive to assume that everyone would heed that or even read that."

We have deliberately allowed and encouraged a system which takes advantage of unwitting consumers to bankrupt themselves en masse and your takeaway seems to be that an online "purchaser’s club" on reddit needs to be blamed for doing in small scale what is done on a daily base in large scale?

The stock market has never been about being fair. It’s always, invariably, been a case of gambling at unknown odds, using the best equivalent of counting cards and skewing odds you can come up with before the SEC comes down on you for actually sneaking peeks at the card faces.

And here we see quite clearly the equivalent of The House moving to constrain the legitimate participant who happens to be upsetting the odds of winning for the people with the Big Boy pants at the table.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

[Addendum]

Forgot the conclusion; The stock market being able to operate in this manner is the weak point. Don’t blame people for gaming the system the way the system was built to be gamed.

Those small retail investors? Marks at the one-armed bandits, nothing more. People who have been told they can win a prize if they manage to make it on foot through the enclosure containing the polar bears and somehow missed the point that nothing will stop them from getting themselves eaten.

Koby (profile) says:

Re: Reality check needed on this.

many retail investors that drove up the stock price, will have bought in at very inflated prices, and many of them will be left holding the bag when it comes crashing back to earth.

One of the good reasons why this short squeeze is happening is because someone has collectively shorted approximately 140% of the available stock. If the shorts are forced to capitulate now, there will theoretically be a buyer for every seller at the current price. I won’t predict what will happen, other than that the hedge funds will do everything in their power to manipulate the market back in their favor. But if the longs can successfully hold out, the short interest may not leave any longs holding a bag.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Reality check needed on this.

While I love that some hedge funds are feeling the pain, you have to recognize that many retail investors that drove up the stock price, will have bought in at very inflated prices, and many of them will be left holding the bag when it comes crashing back to earth.

Sure, that’s all true, and if Robinhood added a warning and an "I know what I’m doing" checkbox, few would be complaining. Had they called it a "know your client" question, they might have been commended.

But not only are they in a highly regulated business, they and/or their partner(s) seem to be benefit from short-selling Gamestop—meaning that stopping the buy orders is in their best interest, being a conflict of interest with the clients wanting to buy. Is it really legal for a broker to let their clients buy some stocks on a market, and prevent them from buying other stocks that are open for trading on that market? If my broker’s CEO gets in a personal feud with Elon Musk, for example, would it be OK to halt buying of Tesla and give really cheap rates for shorting?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Here’s a mirror of the tweet that’s readable without downloading a shitload of Javascript: https://nitter.net/555Sunny/status/1354854993946406917?s=20

Chatter elsewhere suggests that it might be a margin call, which would be legal. Kind of. The bigger story may be that Robinhood is giving people margin accounts and making margin calls without adequate disclosure and informed consent. Apparently, the accounts are margin accounts by default, and stocks are silently bought on margin until incoming funds have "cleared". Super shady. Might violate "know your client" rules too. This isn’t the sort of thing that can be legally hidden in the fine print.

By contrast, my more traditional brokerage had a signup form that required separate opt-in consent for: margin; shorting; and option trading. Each had a separate legal addendum and risk document, and required me to answer additional questions about my experience with such instruments. I didn’t agree to any of those. They still let me buy with uncleared funds; if I’m not paid up by settlement day, they’ll charge an annual interest rate around 5% yer year (a straight financial loan, not a margin loan).

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
brad (profile) says:

Robin Hood and Citadel

Citadel just loaned a lot of money to those shorting Gamestop. Robinhood puts the majority of its trades through Citadel. Robinhood stopped allowign trading on the stocks Citadel’s new investments were losing money to. Seems a lot more nefarious than anything a bunch of individual traders are doing.

Tom Fitzmaurice (profile) says:

The problem with Math, Technology, Economics and Stock Market...

It is so easy to simplify this problem and say hey big finance and markets you are screwing the investor. When this gamestop issue is the collision of a lot of issues that Techdirt cares a lot about. Personally I find this topic fascinating and the resolution is going to be complex…. So here are some things to think about
1) Robinhood is free! Yea!! Techdirt talks about the value of free. Small investors use Robinhood with its terms and conditions so that it is free. But how does Robinhood make money? How does the platform work? So Robinhood sells its orders to a brokerage firm that settles the trades and makes a profit for doing so. If that brokerage doesn’t think it can make money, then the order flow stops (and so does Robinhood)….

2) Robinhood is a technical platform that uses math as the primary driver for its functionality. Duh! So 100 Shares at $10 a share means my account is worth $1000. I lend users (margin) based on value so I might say that you can trade $1100 based on your account value. This is all programmatically figured out. Any risk in giving credit to an individual is borne by Robinhood for margin. Most the time no problem.

3)Economics. Almost always Price = Value. Prices are set by markets for efficiency. People pay for convenience, security, uncertainty, risk a lot of various factors. All things being perfect Price is set by supply and demand. Stock prices are set by future valuation of what investors think a stock will be worth over various timeframes… this can vary by stock. Stock is limited so investors compete with their analysis basically setting the price…
For GAMESTOP THIS MARKET IS BROKEN. NO ONE BELIEVES that Gamestop is worth $470 a share…. most investors think it is worth around $10 a share. Many investors think that it is worth less than that. So they sold shares they didn’t own to buy them back at some future point at less than $10. A lot of people felt this way (Short Interest).

4) Stock Market – So the short sellers sold stuff they didn’t have. Reddit users bought all the Gamestop shares back and forth raising the price knowing that short sellers would need to close out their positions to limit their risk. However firms like Robinhood are also involved because their investors are holding now millions in price but thousands in value securities. Headlines scream that people are worth millions based on the math of $470 a share times 100 shares = $47,000 but all the firms know once the shorts are forced out that the stock is only worth like $10…. So what the hell happens? Robinhood has no technology separating the price from value… no way to track the risk this creates… so I halt my firm from doing business in these areas…

Everyone is going to stop selling Gamestop. Their platforms aren’t designed for this. Rules will change… but this is a much more complex issues than screwing the Reddit users.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
crade (profile) says:

Re: The problem with Math, Technology, Economics and Stock Marke

Stock is bought and sold based on speculation all the time, that is nothing special. The "real value" doesn’t exist, the stock market is not based on that. If investors all panic and sell for some random reason unrelated to the stock itself, the stock price tanks, if they decide to buy for some reason the price goes up. Underlying value of the company is only relevant for the investors who choose to base their decisions of what to buy and sell on that.

The value of your stock is what you can sell it for.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The problem with Math, Technology, Economics and Stock Marke

Robinhood has no technology separating the price from value.

If Robinhood (or anyone else) was capable of separating price from value than the stock market would already be canceled.

NO ONE BELIEVES that Gamestop is worth $470 a share

Several people believe Gamestop is worth $470 a share. However, those same people also know that Gamestop is worth $470 a share only to them. And because they bet a large amount that Gamestop wouldn’t be worth much to them, they may go bankrupt becuase they did something stupid and were wrong about it. That is how the market is explicitly intended to function. Failure is a proper market action.

Anonymous Coward says:

From the New York post:

“He was short in a market that no longer allows people to stay short,” complained one hedgie. “Today, you take a position after doing the work then some guys on Reddit use their phones to buy penny stocks and you end up with your face ripped off. It’s nuts.”

Apparently betting on stocks has changed. Who woulda thunk it?

Anonymous Coward says:

Hmm, seen this movie before...

…People fed up with the establishment, a populist movement comes along that draws the people in and smashes the establishment, the establishment freaks out and tries to assert control, uses the legacy media to smear the people trying to take on the establishment as nazis, bigots, etc (I WISH I was fucking joking here), uses weak excuses for why they’re turning against the populists and banning them from their platforms…

Oh yeah, this is the same movie that’s been playing out since 2015, even Techdirt and the readers of this blog have been on the side of the establishment since 2015. Kind of funny to see you siding with the evil populists now when you hated on them for 5+ years now.

Anonymous Coward says:

It's completely ridiculous

The company claimed — somewhat ridiculously — that the ban was for hate speech on the server. But the timing of it made that look like a very weak fig leaf. Considering how many gamers use Discord (its original target market), I can assure you that other servers have a lot more hate speech than the WallStreetBets one did.

From my limited research, the courts have generally erred on the side that the Bill of Rights doesn’t provide an automatic out on contract law. So the argument that Discord should be on solid ground because of unrelated rulings about forced hosting of speech are red herrings. Once a community on Discord reaches a certain size, it becomes bad faith per se to expect mods to catch every little rule violation before the service does. This is why many of us want good faith across the board with S230. You shouldn’t be able to nuke a community out of nowhere, using a fig leaf of a justification that would never stand up in court in other cases as an example of you acting under good faith to declare the other party in breach.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: It's completely ridiculous

What’s with the contract stuff? It’s not like they will have breached their "contract", for all practical purposes discord and all of these sites decide the contracts terms unilaterally anyway.. Whether they are protected from breach of contract with section 230 or not would make no difference to anything.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Once more let me remind you what fascism is. It need not wear a brown shirt or a green shirt-it may even wear a dress shirt. Fascism begins the moment a ruling class, fearing the people may use their political democracy to gain economic democracy, begins to destroy political democracy in order to retain its power and special privilege. –Tommy Douglas

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

WSBer here. I can’t really prove it, no. But the Discord channel was full of disgusting hate shit. One guy got banned for asking something along the lines of "Doesn’t posting Nazi shit constantly break the ‘don’t be obnoxious’ rule?"

The Discord was basically where WSBers went after they got banned from the sub for being disgusting human beings, and the mods of the Discord chan were complicit. The timing reeks of selective enforcement, for sure, but you couldn’t swing a dead cat around the WSB Discord channel without hitting something that broke Discord’s hate speech policy.

ECA (profile) says:

Long ago, as I listened.

To a teacher describe, HOW the Stock market worked, I asked Why not get allot of people All to put in some money, Do This/that. Any group can force the stock down if they have a good amount of money, and then Grab everything as you force it up.

And the SAME with what the corps did on New years, 2000. And they are Holding them High, to make things look good.

These guys Just did it out in the open. They SAW what was happening and took advantage of that other group.
The fun part is Trying to sell it off.
So whats the problem. its been done this way for years and years.

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Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Not defending content moderation

TechDirt is known for complex, nuanced opinions that are consistent according to specific notions of policy. And its opinions occasionally even evolve with the times (e.g. Tom Wheeler is not a dingo.)

If state officials were more prone to enlightened self interest, (id est long-term interest) TechDirt would likely be less critical of them.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Anonymous Coward says:

LOCK EM ALL UP
Finally the people rise up and cause those who shorted companys to lose billions
AND THEY THEN TRY AND STOP THEM
LOCK EM ALL UP
Don’t hate the player YOU MADE THE GAME
LIVE WITH IT
WE DID FOR YEARS.
WOW AND WHERES SLEEPY JOE?????
HELL HE PUT THOSE IDIOTS IN HIS CABINET
TRUMP LIT THE FUSE
BIDENS GONNA BLOW IT ALL TO KINGDOM COME
REAP WHAT YOU’VE SOWN

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

This tells me...

The whole Gamestop/stonks story tells me that what happened in the movie Trading Places wouldn’t work in real life as telling by this IRL example; The Dukes wouldn’t be ruined; they would just prevent future Winthorpes and Valentines (i.e. Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy’s respective characters) from ever working in the stock market again.

ECA (profile) says:

Anyone figured how this works.

Making bets, and making money?
REALLY. Making Imaginary money, that WE get to supply.
Its already been shown the last time the banks got hit. they were dealing with amounts of money and promises that The World could not be able to pay.
HOW do you use more money then you have? Make it out of Promises. its a Poker game, and we ALL ran out of money.
Anyone for an IOU, that when it comes due(at the end of the hand) we call up all our friends and family to PAY IT FOR US. Get your checkbooks and debit cards ready.(AGAIN)

Loki says:

The problem I see isn’t just a matter of money.

If there are 100 bottles of water, and some dude comes along and sells 140 bottles of water (despite the fact there are only 100 bottles and he technically doesn’t possess any of those bottles anyways), then you run into a situation where up to 240 people have a potential claim to one of those bottles.

Ordinarily, the market would allow the short (eBay) seller enough time to either convince enough buyers to except a refund (at a hopefully extreme discount) or purchase enough bottles (again, at the hopefully much lower price) to ship out to satisfy his contracts.

From the explanation of the WeBull CEO, it sounded like once people started running to the store and buying bottles that it wasn’t so much the choice of the "grocery store" to stop selling bottles as it was the warehouse saying "we aren’t shipping any more bottles until this shit is sorted out".

Sure, the "grocery stores" could possibly do "online sales" the way the "eBay seller" did, but that’d probably put them on the hook for potential "refunds" at whatever the current market price ended up being. I see two options for solving this problem:

1) invalidate the short (eBay) sales. But what if some of those "eBay buyers" have already sold their bottles? Plus, you’d have to do with with the whole market though, and not just GameStop. Given the clear widespread prevalence of this practice it would probably be a financial, logistical and legal nightmare that would make this option near impossible.

2) Stop people from buying bottles, but allow people to sell bottles (or at least a claim to a bottle) until there are only as many claims to a bottle as there are actual bottles.

Now granted the dude who distributes the water is probably happy with option 2 as Mr. eBay Dude is one of his biggest customers and it will inevitably force down the price and potentially allow his to pay off his debt without going broke. However, even if he hated Mr. eBay Dude for being the unscrupulous, dishonest prick he is, at some point option 2 becomes the only viable option as you can’t give 150 people bottles if only 100 bottles exist.

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The strange part in this is getting someone(stupid) to buy the Goods at the Higher rate, while the Price is RIGHT THERE ON the net, and you can see the price going Down.
Selling the Shares Can cause the price to go up, and you are going to sell Allot of them, to make more money, and TRY to Duck quickly(buy the cheaper shares and get out) before the Shares either crap out at $0, or someone thinks it could be a great Buy to force up with a few sales.
All that Gamestop had to do was buy back Some of their stocks at a Very cheap price, to force the price back up.

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