Robinhood, the popular trading app which has crafted its mission to “democratize investing for everyone,” is now facing a brand identity crisis as it faces backlash in the wake of its move to wrestle back some control of erratic stock trading.
This morning, Robinhood added restrictions to users trying to buy or trade popular stocks like GameStop, AMC, BlackBerry, Bed Bath & Beyond, Nokia and others found on Reddit r/WallStreetBets, the subreddit where retail investors have banded together to drive up stocks on pre-digital brands popular some 20 years ago. Investors can no longer purchase specific stocks and Robinhood raised margin requirements for certain securities. Other stock platforms like Interactive Brokers and broker Ameritrade have also placed restrictions on the respective stocks.
Robinhood cities “current market volatility” behind the decision, which was causing big losses for hedge funds that have shorted those companies. GameStop's stock price shot up to $347 at Wednesday’s close, a 437% gain from its Monday price of $64. Similarly, shares of AMC Entertainment were up 300% this week. The publicity around the effort has driven several big-pocketed fringe investors and other low-key players to take their chance with the stock too. Within hours of the restrictions being implemented, GameStop stock fell by more than 30% to $240.
The app’s decision has sparked heated backlash on social media with some Robinhood users outraged that the app would limit buying on certain stocks despite its free-trading promise. The situation has put Robinhood in a tough spot just as the company prepares for an IPO, which is when it would sell shares in its own company to the public and to banks. The company has to show it is a responsible force in the market, an image that the latest activity could undercut, but it also needs to keep its devoted users.
Prominent individuals like U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Alex Lieberman, CEO of newsletter company Morning Brew, expressed their frustrations.