Reddit, WSB and BBBY: The hidden force behind the meme
As noted in Friday’s Blind Spot Wrap, Wall Street Bets, Reddit’s now infamous ‘investing’ subreddit, has started targeting Bed Bath and Beyond (BBBY) in a new pump campaign on the back of the stock’s 46 per cent short float. To lure investors into beefing up a stock squeeze, the community is promising to post pictures of itself eating ghost peppers or entire watermelons if and when certain price levels are achieved.
Short floats, bad bets and memes. Sounds familiar, right?
No one will have forgotten that Wall Street Bets first became notorious with an insane bet on GameStop (GME), catching headlines for weeks on end in January-February 2021.
The online narrative regarding GME quickly grew into a class-war struggle between evil hedge fund short sellers, who the community had figured out had amassed an outsized short position in GME representing some 140 per cent of the float, and the defenders of high street staples like GameStop.
According to the official narrative, an online trader called Keith Gill, who goes by the pseudonyms of Roaring Kitty and Deepfuckingvalue online, started the whole thing off. Gill was summoned to a congressional hearing by members of Congress who were concerned that the gamification of stock trading on online trading platforms could lead to the spread of market-moving rumours in unregulated spaces such as Reddit.
Despite the crazy machinations that followed, for the most part, it was assumed the campaign had originated organically and spontaneously.
And yet we have discovered an online footprint that implies there may have been more to it than just that.
The one that got away?
On October 8, 2020, almost three months before the GameStop meme frenzy set off proper, a mysterious user named /u/namsilat (an anagram of talisman) posted the following announcement on WSB:
Urging users on the forum to buy into GME shares ‘right fucking now’ to become ‘fucking rich’, namsilat’s claim to legitimacy was his previously correct calls on pump and dump calls for SRNE, IVR, KODK, or AAPL.
The thread was initially filled with sceptics and curious bystanders who later marvelled at namsilat’s incredible call; shooting up from $2.50 a share to $5.88 in a matter of hours.
This immense share price increase was timed with a later announcement that day that Gamestop would partner with Microsoft to sell a new Xbox console bundle, leading to the stock being halted.
Some users were ecstatic; “you just put me through college I’m fucking crying thank you so much”, stated /u/LAUGH100.
Others were more skeptical. Considering the timing of the post they raised the possibility that namsilat was engaged in some form of insider trading. “Literally illegal”, said /u/lowtierdeity, “WTF who are you? How did you know?” wrote /u/bigvalley11.
Namsilat denied these claims. Asked “did I receive insider info” by a Reddit user, namsilat replied “no, you didn’t, the writing has been on the wall for a month. My timing just happened to be pretty good.” However, the user later deleted these and most of his other comments before WSB mods deleted the post.
Stock manipulation in the modern age
Pump-and-dump schemes are nothing new for financial markets. This is especially the case on more volatile exchanges such as AIM. The use of bots to pump stocks on Reddit is also widely known.
However, many of the methods used to initiate pump and dump campaigns have been growing increasingly sophisticated and occult in recent years. These discussions no longer happen on middle-aged share-price forums, they have shifted to personal subreddits and private Discord channels. Bots too are not at the centre of these plays – private online distribution channels are far more often the nerve centre.
That this shift in pump-and-dump methodologies is in the mainstream blind spot is clear to anyone who googles’ namsilat’s name online. Other than some inconsequential mentions and a KnowYourMeme page, few outlets, mainstream or otherwise, picked up on what was ultimately a very sus post on Reddit – one that led to namsilat being banned from WallStreetBets.
To be fair to the mainstream and alt press, jumping into these private Discord channels is no easy deal – they typically shift into different locations once they become too popular.
Indeed, namsilat claimed he had a small personal subreddit with his alternate account called /r/thecorporation.
This subreddit, which is now at over 14k subscribers, is replete with gibberish and other seemingly occult noise.
The Discord invite link posted on the SubReddit has since expired. Indeed, just attempting to trace /u/namsilat period is to run into a trail of deleted usernames and shifting alt accounts.
Weirdly, namsilat seems to distance himself from the sub in another post;
Seriously, stay tuned if you’re the kind of person who can’t look away from car crashes.
8 years ago, a sub called r/thecorporation was created by The name “eternalSeptember”.
That sub has always had one post. A simple substitution cypher that referenced a website that didn’t exist.
Today, that changed, and another cipher appeared. This time by a user called “finalOctober”. Today, also, the website came into existence.
8 years? Either this is the most elaborate, forward thinking larp of all time, someone is deeply fucking with us, or AI’s from the future are communicating to WSB. It’s probs totally the last one.
It seems plausible that similarly underhanded manipulations may be occurring in other meme stock pump and dump campaigns.
An engima in the market?
Keeping up with market manipulation and insider trading is no easy feat for regulators. There are only so many chats they can monitor. And only so many platforms. Officially, bankers’ comms have all had to be on the record for years, but the capacity for burners and private phones to be used as a workaround has always been there. As of May, that changed when the SEC made it clear that private phones would come under its purview too by requesting over 100 personal mobile phones from Wall Street execs.
What’s a bull-headed stock manipulator to do? Bandits, after all, will be bandits.
If encrypted or closed end-to-end comms channels are not good enough because the mere inability to deliver a clean personal phone when asked is enough to get you fined, then no doubt those who depend on leaking insider info or manipulating stock prices for their outperformance will evolve their techniques further.
And yet, at the heart of everything lies a clandestine comms challenge far greater than that faced by either Allied or Axis forces during WW2. During the war, both sides merely had to decrypt the comms they could visibly see and intercept. Successful insider trading in the modern era, however, depends on concealing that there’s a comms channel going at all. Everything needs to remain plausibly deniable.
Steganography, made famous by the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci, is the art of concealing information in pictures and other innocuous public artefacts. Only those in the know, i.e. those who know how to read the signs, can understand the embedded messages.
Are Reddit, Twitter and Instagram increasingly being populated with precisely these sorts of visual or heavily encrypted gamified comms? Are private Discord communities turning into academies for initiates who want to school themselves in the art of deciphering the signs that can make them money?
In the era of “crypto” finance — it would seem remarkable if some sort of encrypted market abuse wasn’t happening. The question is, are regulators even looking at this stuff? And if they are, do they have the skills and proficiency to enforce against it?
Wall Street Bets and the run on GameStop may have started innocently enough and got carried away with itself. But if the purpose of the whole gambit was to set up a new insider trading system — perhaps one focused on enriching strategic communities that can also be leveraged for all sorts of purposes — then that would be another thing entirely.
Either way, from Tesla fanboys to bitcoin bros and Bed, Bath and Beyond, we may be entering a unique era of cult markets — inclusive of all sorts of embarrassing initiation rituals and rites of passage.