Alessandra Horton

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Why the “Meme Stock” Bubble Killed Freedom on the Internet, Forever

By Alessandra Horton.

Update: at the time of writing this article, Nokia, AMC, Blackberry and others are being targeted by the so-called “Meme Stocks” crowd.

By now, you must have heard about what is being referred to everywhere as the “Meme Stocks” or “Wallstreetbets.”

If you haven’t yet, please read this article by James Surowiecki, a columnist for The New Yorker. He talks about how the stocks of video game retailer company “GameStop” were increased up to more than 160% by small investors posting on sites like Reddit and Robinhood in great detail.

What you most likely have not heard yet is that, in the next few months, the Internet as we know it will cease to exist.

Here’s how it will happen.

Why this will affect you

Community driven websites like Reddit, 4chan, and others have been known for years to cause what is known as the “slashdot effect.” The term, also known as the “Reddit effect,” describes the sudden influx of web traffic when a small website becomes featured on a large popular one. This usually causes mayhem on the web servers for hours and even days.

Usually, this was considered a good thing since the spike of attention helped crowdfund projects for small companies or brought much-needed awareness to urgent humanitarian causes.

That changed a few days ago and will now affect how you use the Internet. Forever.

Because those cool kids who used to hang around the communities causing the slashdot effect are no longer kids. They are now adults, and they are doing something much more destructive than flocking to someone’s web server in numbers.

And they now have wallets. And bank accounts.

Michael Burry, the man who became famous for predicting the 2008 housing bust (and was portraited by Christian Bale in the movie, “The Big Short”), tweeted the following:

“There should be legal and regulatory repercussions. This is unnatural, insane, and dangerous.”

Nothing good will come out of what happened here. This is not a joke, this is not meme material, this is not something we will be laughing at in a few months.

This here is the tipping point.

This is the iceberg that surprised the Titanic. What you are witnessing now is the ship about to sink, real slow. There are people is dancing, drinking, talking as if nothing had happened.

But the captain knows. The sailors suspect. This will happen now, sooner or later — but it will happen; there will be regulatory repercussions.

Not on the stock exchange, but on how we all use the Internet.

Economic Terrorists

Freedom on the Internet will die with a series of news articles depicting the dangers of a foreign government or terrorist organization attempting an economic attack by employing a similar antic than the one perpetrated in the so-called “Meme Stocks” fiasco of the last few days.

The unsuspected users behind the movement will be labeled economic terrorists or something among those lines. Although the label may differ at first, they will be considered as dangerous as any other group of cybercriminals when all this is over.

For some, plotting to harm a country’s stock market might sound like an exaggerated description of what is actually happening. The poor can also play with stocks, right?

Wrong.

Steps are being taken right at this moment to spin the “Stock Meme” story into something extremely sinister. News pieces on how a group of Internet users colluded to slap the stock market across the cheek are being written and shared this very moment. Those stories, and their cheeky undertones, are but the prelude to what is bound to come.

Pandora’s box has been opened.

In December 2019, Business Insider reported how the Chinese government now forces people to scan their faces before they are allowed to use the Internet. China, for those living in a shoebox, is well known for monitoring its citizens’ activities and behaviors by employing nefarious strategies only the unimaginative brain of a bureaucrat would be able to produce.

Steps are being taken right at this moment to spin the “Stock Meme” story into something extremely sinister

Most people fail to realize that behind closed doors, politicians from every country are actually drooling over at the way China limits its citizen’s Internet access.

This brings us to our little problem; all politicians were waiting was the perfect excuse to regulate how we use the Internet, and we just handed them one on a silver plate.

Estimated losses for short-selling GameStop’s share price are, at the moment of this article, estimated to be around 20 billion for 2021. Surely, that won’t go unnoticed.

Phones are ringing on congress, and we have only ourselves to blame for it.

Regulate The Internet

One fact that must be resolutely faced by the entirety of society in the upcoming months will be the need for a regulated Internet. But before the sociopaths that plague social media start erecting their usual gallows, let me clarify. When I state that the Internet needs to be regulated, I am not proposing to let the matter rest in our governments’ incapable hands. On the contrary — we need to take the steps outside the system to prevent the system from doing what it does best; killing freedom.

A compromise must be taken if the Internet is to survive as we know it. Blame for the events of this past week and for the events soon to unfold should not be focused solely on the substantially wealthy owners of social media platforms. Fingers should not be pointed towards the owners and moderators of community-driven websites either, but on all members of society — for as stated above, it was each one of us who, by active participation or omission, has been at fault here.

And as such, it is us, the people, who should be fixing this.

But how did we got here?

The Perfect Storm

Back in the day, to operate in the stock exchange market, a person needed several things, some easier to obtain than others. The most crucial one was, besides a bank account, a credited broker of estimable reputation and a computer, was the knowledge on how to operate in the stock market.

But outsourcing programming jobs overseas changed all that. It made it possible for tech companies to access and nurture from the know-how and workforces of entire countries while lowering developing costs down to a bare minimum.

Which meant the tools to operate in the stock market could now be developed by almost any garage tech company.

The Open Source Community also played a fundamental part in providing the tools and frameworks necessary for tech companies to take the giant leaps they wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise.

And by accessing the fruits of a worldwide workforce of engineers devoted twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week to solve their problems and facilitate the means to speed up any development cycle, things definitely changed.

Simultaneously, smartphone companies were fiercely competing to bring an entry-level phone to the market. When that happened, it put a computer in anyone’s hands, including kids who, thanks to the obviously unsupervised access, used the Internet to freely populate community-driven sites like 4chan and Reddit.

Without supervision, these kids grew up doing almost anything they wanted on the Internet, especially on community-driven websites like Reddit and 4chan, from bullying others, sometimes until their victim became suicidal, to spreading photos and videos of the most despicable acts man is capable of.

And why wouldn’t they? There is hardly any real punishment in those communities. The penalty goes from blocking their account, something easy to overcome by creating a new one, to shutting down the forum where they posted their “mischievousness.”

And every bullying message, every inappropriate photo or video posted without the explicit authorization of the owner, every bit of stolen information that became widely shared overnight as if everything was a joke, every discussion of hate, of bigotry, every small window to the worst of human degradation, got us to where we are today.

And as the old saying goes, how does one get to the end of the road?

One step at a time.

The Last Stand

The Internet and freedom of speech do not belong only to the so-called Tech Giants, but to each of us, the people. That is why a standard on online etiquette must be urgently subscribed to by all the parties involved — yes, even by us, the users.

One platform’s actions to ensure the Internet remains safe and free cannot ever again be independent of the actions taken by others — neither by the actions taken by the rest of society.

There is an imperative need to delineate a set of standards that all companies, whether is a service provider like Amazon or Google, all the users, us, and all parties involved in the administration of web communities need to subscribe if we are to ensure that the web stays deregulated and free.

The auto-regulation of the Internet by its users and service providers will prove to be a far more satisfactory tragedy than the alternative, the pen of a bureaucrat.

We already saw a possible first version of these standards being enforced after Parler, an alternative social media platform favored by conservatives, was booted out the playground by Amazon, Apple, and Google.

The auto-regulation of the Internet by its users and service providers will prove to be a far more satisfactory tragedy than the alternative, the pen of a bureaucrat.

Separated efforts have clearly not been enough to contain our generation’s inherent stupidity, and we must guarantee freedom on the Internet to exist for those yet to come.

Because it is not about us anymore, that much has been proven already in repeated opportunities. It is about the freedom that those who will be using the Internet tomorrow will be allowed to exercise.

And the Band Played On

The ship is already sinking, and we seem not to care less about it. The band is playing, snacks are being served in the dining room. We can look away all we want, but it won’t change the fact that freedom on the Internet might disappear in the next few years after a few “unsuspecting” legislators pass on a bill to regulate how we use it to strengthen the stock market and, possibly, prevent a foreign cyberattack on the economy.

When it happens, we should not blame Reddit, 4chan, or any other community-driven website, but ourselves for letting it come to this.

Of course, part of the blame should also go to those naughty kids — now grown into naughty adults, who irresponsibly played with the stock market as if it were posting any other meme.

Very, very naughty adults.

Alessandra Horton is a freelance writer and editor. You can read her in places like Medium. She is currently taking an indefinite hiatus from Twitter.

Alessandra Horton is a freelance writer and editor rambling about marketing and the web. She is currently taking an indefinite hiatus from Twitter.