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The Redditors Behind The GameStop Wall Street Frenzy

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Some have called them a flash mob with money. Thousands of amateur traders banded together and sent the share price of retailer GameStop soaring. It created a frenzy on Wall Street and drew the attention of the Securities and Exchange Commission. NPR's Bobby Allyn introduces us to two people in this movement.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: It all started on the popular messaging board Reddit. Tyler Ehrlich is a horticulturist in Greeley, Colo., and he splits his time on Reddit between a group known as AcidMarxism and a community now in the spotlight wallstreetbets, which describes its members as degenerates.

TYLER EHRLICH: You know, it's a bunch of guys spamming emojis and a bunch of really toxic masculinity. But if you get past that, then you see people, like, I'm in this. Like, this is making life-changing amount of money.

ALLYN: If you can sift through the homophobic slurs and casual misogyny, some of the redditors here are savvy financial sleuths, and one of them figured out that major hedge funds were betting against GameStop. So they wanted to screw Wall Street over by rocketing up the price of the stock, mostly through the easy-to-use trading app Robinhood. And it worked.

EHRLICH: And there's plenty of people in there like, I don't have a job. You know, I've been screwed out of work, all this stuff. But then we're all just idiots trying to make money on the stock market, haha. So (laughter)...

ALLYN: Ehrlich's own purchase of 500 bucks worth of GameStop was among thousands of buys that helped the stock go from $20 a share earlier this month to a high of nearly $350 on Wednesday. Ehrlich posted about it in another Reddit forum, which are known as subreddits.

EHRLICH: I actually made a post on a different subreddit called the people versus Goliath (ph) because that's what I saw this as.

ALLYN: In Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Realtor Lucas Davis (ph) was all in. He, too, saw the stunt in lofty terms.

LUCAS DAVIDSON: Parallels along with, you know, what Teddy Roosevelt ended up doing to bring down the monopolies back in the 1910s.

ALLYN: That's one interpretation. But there is another side to this. Wall Street investors reported receiving nasty and harassing online attacks. One even said his children were threatened. Davidson didn't engage in any of that, but he did post a meme in the group saying members want to, quote, "bring down the hedge funds."

DAVIDSON: This is a great way to stick it to these people. And then when they realize they can also stand to profit off of it, they think that's absolutely delicious.

ALLYN: In Colorado, Ehrlich agrees, seeing the action as a reddit uprising of sorts. But he admits that his own GameStop investment was in part fueled by a desire for quick cash. He says many in the group might just get away with a nice profit.

EHRLICH: Maybe they're not going to become millionaires this week, but they might make some thousands of dollars they otherwise would never have had.

ALLYN: Losing lots of money is a very good possibility, too. But in pure dollar terms, hedge funds are the big loser - for now. By one estimate, investors who bet against GameStop lost more than $14 billion in a single day of trading.

Bobby Allyn, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.