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This week in TikTok: Money is fake, but I still lost $10

The GameStop squeeze, explained by StockTok.

Rebecca Jennings is a senior correspondent covering social platforms and the creator economy. Since joining Vox in 2018, her work has explored the rise of TikTok, internet aesthetics, and the pursuit of money and fame online. You can sign up for her biweekly Vox Culture newsletter here.

Hello from The Goods’ twice-weekly newsletter! On Tuesdays, internet culture reporter Rebecca Jennings uses this space to update you all on what’s been going on in the world of TikTok. Is there something you want to see more of? Less of? Different of? Email, and subscribe to The Goods’ newsletter here.

There isn’t much to say about last week’s wild Redditor stonk squeeze-a-palooza that hasn’t already been said by people who actually understand the stock market (for a really great explainer, just read our own Emily Stewart’s all-encompassing guide). One takeaway from the pandemic investment boom: Money is fake, but day trading is TikTok’s favorite new get-rich-quick scheme.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but considering how little financial literacy is taught in schools, it’s easy to get sucked in by the feeling that everyone on the internet is making thousands of dollars by the minute — and you can join in, too, if you download this one app that makes stock trading easy and cute right now. And last week’s meme stock spikes were particularly alluring and particularly dangerous for latecomers. I know because this happened to me!

On Wednesday, I spent $18 on AMC stock just as r/WallStreetBets was telling everyone to buy it, and then when it immediately started going down I heard that, actually, I was supposed to be buying BlackBerry stock, I spent $24 on that, too. And then because Nokia stock was only seven bucks, I was like, sure!

The problem is that by the time someone like me — a person who does not obsessively refresh r/WallStreetBets or have access to its Discord channels — hears about what’s going on, it’s already too late. The only people who really win are the earliest adopters, which is fine! It is extremely cool that some of these people smartly invested their stimulus packages and were able to pay off their student loans as a result of collective action. (I love this Times piece on the mostly young men who coordinated the squeeze.)

I didn’t actually expect to make money; mostly, I wanted to feel what it was like to participate in such a rare and paradigm-shifting internet occurrence. But I was slightly troubled by how frequently I went back to check Robinhood and how disappointing it was to see the numbers go down, and how outraged I felt when the app announced it was halting buys on all the meme stocks.

It was, however, a good reminder of why for most people, options trading isn’t the smartest move. When Emily and I worked on a recent story about risky financial advice going viral on TikTok, she stressed that when the stock market in general is going up, it’s easy to feel like once you’ve made a little bit of money, you can’t lose.

“Some investors are attracted to options trading because it’s exciting and can feel more like gambling than investing,” she wrote. “But investing isn’t really supposed to be exciting. And it’s possible to make a couple of good bets early on, only to eventually get wiped out — a common story. In June 2020, a 20-year-old day trader died by suicide after believing he’d lost hundreds of thousands of dollars on options trading.”

It’s easy for me to imagine teenage amateur investors losing their life savings because of a misguided sense of safety and normal stock market fluctuations, but I doubt they’ll be making TikTok videos about it. The ones who hit the jackpot, though, will surely be documenting their gains while glossing over the fact that nobody, not even the most seasoned hedge fund types, necessarily knows what they’re doing here. Once again, money is fake! (But I still lost 10 dollars.)

Anyway, here are my favorite TikTok videos about #stonks:

  1. Hey Wall Street, how’s my form?
  2. Here’s what the r/WallStreetBets Discord looked (and sounded like) back when it was still online.
  3. POV: Your toxic boyfriend explains the economy.
  4. POV: The insufferable know-it-all billionaire defender chastises you for investing in GameStop.
  5. The inevitable GameStop sea shanty
  6. You can tell that the Planet Money TikTok guy was like, “This is my Super Bowl.”

TikTok in the news

  • 22-year-old songwriter Abigail Barlow and 19-year-old piano prodigy Emily Bear started the crowdsourced Bridgerton musical (not to be confused with the crowdsourced Ratatouille musical). Now they are getting Broadway attention.
  • I love this story on Black deaf TikTok creators!
  • An Oregon man was wrongly accused of kidnapping and sex trafficking near a college campus after a TikTok video went viral in which he was driving his van while a woman screamed in the background. The woman, it turned out, was just someone on the street, and he just happened to be driving by. “I can’t go to work in my business vehicle here without people assuming my guilt,” he said. Local police assured the community that no one from the college is currently missing and there is no evidence of a crime. TikTok conspiracy theory vigilantes: Maybe relax?
  • The TikTok-famous leggings that supposedly make your butt look great are $30 on Amazon.
  • Everyone’s doing the Silhouette Challenge, in which you show yourself normally standing in a doorway and then put a sexy red filter on to highlight your silhouette (some people do this part naked, because you can’t see the ~ details ~.). But be careful: People have figured out a way to remove the red filter.

One Last Thing

It’s 3 pm: Do you know what your child is doing? Spoiler: This.

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