Hackernoon logoMy Thoughts on Stocktwits, Censorship, and Online Harassment by@TheLoneroFoundation

My Thoughts on Stocktwits, Censorship, and Online Harassment

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Andrew Magdy Kamal Hacker Noon profile picture

@TheLoneroFoundationAndrew Magdy Kamal

Stocktwits as a tool really excited me in the beginning, but I was awakened to a reality of things that are quite toxic. What inspired me, is that you seem to have had founders with an innovative vision in terms of creating a community for stocks and stock tickers. However, this community may have become a safe haven for trolling, internet harassment, defamation, stock dumping, privacy concerns, and much more. This isn't to personally come after the founders or anything like this, as I warrant a healthy discussion on how to improve big tech. We do need to look at the problems though.

For those who want to expose tyranny, sometimes they are afraid to speak out. I'm here to tell you that you no longer need to be afraid. ~ The Unknown Activist

Let us first start with looking at an oddly specific problem which we will want to get back to, "Machine Learning and Censorship". What happens if you automatically have perhaps a failed bayesian text classifier or other algorithm in order to track abuse? What happens if this algorithm perhaps was coded wrong or may have confirmation bias in or of itself?

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On June 9th, 2020 at 1:42AM, I have got an automated email from joining Stocktwits. I just uploaded my profile, added a basic description and posting absolutely nothing yet.

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While on Stocktwits, and just occasionally browsing, all of a sudden I was automatically logged off and couldn't log back in. I got an automated email four minutes later that says my account have been suspended. Part of me wishes that I sort of ended the story than and there. However, I was inclined to still use the website. I seen people on Stocktwits with really premium rooms and thought this can be a decent way to build a following or making a historical portfolio tagging your picks.

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After me inquiring a few times, there final words were, "In an effort to combat spammers/bots our automated suspension system has accidentally suspended your account.". This response was on July 1st and my account was activated. This means it took around 3 weeks for me to finally have an account because I was the "unfortunate one" that their system picked. This should have been an indication on, "hey maybe this site isn't worth it", but for some reason I was still enticed.

Sooner or later, I noticed something quite odd. The website given its popularity has some other questionable problems. The first problem was the way advertising is setup at their website. Stocktwits has so many ads they might probably make a clickfarm jealous. Even if you go on mobile, videos occasionally pop up that follow you through your screen and when you try exiting out, sometimes you may accidentally click on said ad. The best way to fix this is, hey pay for an ad-free subscription.

The text input is also really bad. Many things make it very easy for someone to type a typo, and you are only allowed to delete at maximum 3 posts a day.

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Now don't get me wrong, I am all for someone including ads on their site, especially if it was done in a non-privacy invasive and non-aggressive way. However, this isn't the case. Even the best ad blockers block most ads, but not all of them. If the best alternative to get rid of ads is paying them money, this seems a bit questionable. One also needs to keep in mind that Stocktwits makes revenue from selling financial data as well to third parties. What data does a site that extract lots of its data flow elements for stock prices and financial information from third parties have in order to sell? More than likely, social sentiment aka they are profiting out of your data.

There seems to be a few other privacy concerns in relation to Stocktwits, data handling, and other ways on which they could be making money. I plan on getting to those because their seems alot to handle.

Personally I support business freedoms and things of that matter. I feel like if a business is problematic, having double standards or toxic, it still is their business. People have rights. Among those rights however, is that the government shouldn't intervene with enforcing you to serve others or following some sort of custom ethical code. If you have a site engaging in questionable actions relating to user bans and such, I don't think trying to create more government regulation is the best way to solve it. However, when something is wrong from an ethical and philosophical point of view, if we want to speak up, we have a prima facie moral duty to do so.

If you go on Reddit, you can visit the unofficial Stocktwits subreddit. From my understanding, r/stocktwits is the only subreddit right now related to Stocktwits.

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An overwhelming number of the posts on r/stocktwits (well over the majority), seem to be related to bans and account suspensions. What even seems worse is that once certain users are banned, one can't go and start looking at their thread history. This makes me assume that they can just ban people without even the community knowing what is going on. Another problem is privacy. In relation to privacy, someone can't directly go and delete their stocktwits account. Banned user accounts also still exist on the platform. If you want to create an archive of your Stocktwits account, it seems like no luck finding a tool that lets you do that directly through the Stocktwits site. Even Twitter lets you download your archive.

Something interesting to point out is that the founder, (well co-founder) Howard Lindzon seems like a quite interesting character. He manages a hedge fund and also considers himself an angel investor. The VC firm he is a managing partner of have invested in RobinHood, Zingeroo, eToro, and YCharts. Howard Lindzon is also launching a commission-free trading app called ShareTrade.

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The interface of his app which was taken from here, looks quite familiar for some reason, and it looks like at the bright side Stocktwits is looking to expand. Doing my due diligence, I'm wondering if this actually may be the social network Robinhood thought of launching, but am not sure.

I guess more on that for a different time. Questions do arise to me though on what would happen if the Stocktwits founder may have had some sort of biases, and can that affect his community. I will also go more on that.

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Stocktwits has a really high alexa ranking. They also have very specific keywords that make up a large percentage of their company's traffic. One of the top keywords making up 2.29% of all Stocktwits search traffic is, "w88 hong nhung". Also looking at the wordtracker keyword analysis, Stocktwits has a bunch of other quirky keywords sending out volume to their website.

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For some reason, and perhaps it might be a problem that I'm just facing, alot of strange activities happen on the site. For example, everytime a stock seems trending tons of spam shilling for products. You also have other strange things going on such as tons of inappropriate gifs, and different forms of profanity.

Luckily though, there seems to be rules that people on Stocktwits should abide by. Luckily, insults and harassment isn't allowed. Vulgarity is also prohibited. For some reason though, the founder himself seemed to have accidentally broke some of his rules. For example he used the term idiot trader, a****le, called people idiots, called someone an a**, and used the term b**s**t. He also told people to go f**k themselves. Now most of those were just in the last few weeks. Honestly, I could care less about him cursing, what I do care about is stuff like this:

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Now questions revolve around who he may consider thugs and trolls. Perhaps the founder of Stocktwits is going on a moral endeavor stopping people from being abused or an undercover hero. The other side of the coin could be some guy that thinks there are limits to free speech and has political biases that may result in him censoring people if he feels like it. However, what type of political biases can a known capitalist funding growing companies have?

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Well one thing is this guy considers Twitter and the internet a privilege not a right. It seems like he considers it his moral duty to stop lies. That tweet can be seen here. Some things are partially right and some things are dangerous about this argument. The thing I want to touch base on is that Twitter in itself is a business. However, what ramifications happen if a business with millions of followers suddenly got their account suspended because the Twitter CEO doesn't like that other business's CEO or just felt like it? Also another thing is who does he consider the gatekeepers of the internet? You can say almost just about anything is a privilege, not a right.

The other question I beg to differ are what certain biases might someone like the Stocktwits founder have? Howard seems to tweet about alot of issues.

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Now keep in mind, I don't care if someone is anti-Trump. I am an anarcho-capitalist with conservative leaning deontological moral philosophy. I do care however if someone is pro-censorship.

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Even some people think it might be a bit strange that a guy on Twitter seems to be fantasizing about banning certain people. That was in response to the "mail in ballot" post we seen earlier.

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Outside of the political things he is into, this guy seems controversial. Now I have notoriously been mostly short on Nikola, but there are other problems with the above. Many people including me see a very particular problem with this. Again, the guy has his own personal beliefs. Entirely fine. Infact it is tyranny to say otherwise, as humans have free will and rights. However, does he go by the same principals?

The reference to snorting adderall was also on his Stocktwits profile. This makes you question three things: Does the founder of Stocktwits have a certain political bias, outside of political bias is it easy for him to casually ban somebody, and also does he apply the same rules he applies to his users?

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This excerpt is from the guy's Wikipedia page, and various other sources. A specific comment I want to look at is this:

For people who were really doing good work on Wall Street to get punished like this, it's a shame that their models went right out the window. ~ Howard Lindzon

It seems to me that Mr.Lindzon here seems to care alot about the rights of others. He also cared alot about when others seemed to copy his $cashtags idea. You have a guy that doesn't want people's rights taken away, or to have an unfortunate event happen because of big tech. Maybe things changed?

Stocktwits might actually have a bot problem as well. Outside of accounts that auto-spam certain products, there seems to be other activities going on at Stocktwits. A certain comment that I archived talked about a short sellers tweets and reports appearing all over Stocktwits in a very peculiar way. Part of the comment says, "Saw a surge of bot accounts created same day on StockTwits sharing his tweet and other tweets to instill fear in the market CREATING a sell-off." This is a problem many others have been experiencing. Take into example the stock $NNOX.

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During times certain short seller reports came out, the sentiment started magically dropping. One Stocktwits user has this to say:

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That post seen here, was even just posted on October 2nd. If I am going to be honest, I also had intense experiences. Every time I posted something about Nanox, multiple other accounts would immediately post negative memes, profanity or misleading posts that brought my comment or post down the thread. I kept trying to get my voice heard. I also responded to many people with due diligence on different links, charts, pattern correlations, news releases related to the stock, etc.

After I posted articles that followed as rebuttals to short seller reports, I have been receiving mostly on Stocktwits (though on other forums as well) tons of insults, threads, harassment, etc.

One such user even went as far as to keep asking for my CV and where I work. Other users called me a foreigner. A variety of different users told me I live in a country where I can't get extradited. A group of people posted random messages fantasizing about my death. Countless people have called me a clown. People been posting gifs of provocative images of women playing with their b**bs. I used to do stock streaming videos and post links to such videos. I have a slight speech impediment that I'm highly insecure about. People were posting comments calling me a f***t.

Many of those accounts that actually been harassing me are actual people. Lots of them still have active accounts. I guess in some instances AI moderation + human moderation are still horrid, and yet there seems like a censorship problem.

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Another awkward experience I was having on Stocktwits was with a guy I nickname, "fills dude". He goes around to numerous users basically asking for screenshots of their "fill orders". I doubt an overwhelming majority of people are willing to screenshot portions of their account for some random dude on the internet. This dude was very passive aggressive about asking different users multiple times repetitively.

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Something quite ironic was that the founder of Stocktwits replied to "fills dude" before when "fills dude" sold Nanox for some profit turnover, telling him "congrats". I think the irony here is the activity going on in that ticker + the fact that the account he is replying to is "fills dude". Fills dude told the Stocktwits founder, "Thanks, Howard."

Something I know I been personally doing on Stocktwits is that everytime I do an opinionated post, I tell people to "Invest at your own risk and do your own due diligence" or vice versa. This is a general practice, that for some reason people kept asking why I do it. People also starting making fun of me saying a basic disclaimer. I think the "why" is self-explanatory.

Let us get back to me talking about Nanox again. We already looked at some past sentiments regarding Nanox (that green and red chart screenshot). Now let us look at something else through a tool called Algowins.

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The above is a chart. See what happened to sentiment on 9/14, and then the extremely negative test at 9/15. 9/15 had the worst test of -49.96. What happened on 9/15, is that a short seller report came out. The days to follow had some of the worst shorting ever seen. The test however on 10/02 was the highest at 8.34. What caused the resistance to burst so much on 10/02? Apparently, many people speculate that it is related to $NNOX announcing that they are presenting in RSNA 2020.

This was a fact though I reported many weeks prior, and they already been on the RSNA 2020 vendors list for a while. However, once they done a PR that they will do this presentation, then people got excited. This and many other incidents tells me that people don't do due diligence. Many people trade without even doing some basic research on the company they are trading. People seem tied to one sentence headlines and don't like to read.

After the news finally spread out because of PR, many people on Stocktwits who are bearish tagged accounts posted messages asking why the presentation is so late or accusing RSNA 2020 as being an audience of pumpers or a "pump and dump" group. Anybody who is in the field Nanox is, probably known what the RSNA conference is for the past decade. If people done a basic web search, they would realize this is one of the biggest Radiology events in the world.

Imagine debates with people who don't know what they are talking about or making random stuff up as they go along. Multiply that experience 10x. This is sometimes how it feels like on Stocktwits.

Now I assume outside of "house rules", lots of terms regarding Stocktwits have already been broken. One of the terms includes not facilitating in activities that, "defames, libels, ridicules, mocks, disparages, threatens, harass, intimidates or abuses anyone". Now this is a very lose category, because anybody can say anything is intimidating or ridiculing. Disparaging is also quite lose. However, when you go into the category of libel, mocking, and harassing, I do see some obvious red flags of this constantly happening.

You also personally aren't supposed to engage in activities that, "harvests or otherwise collects information about users without their consent;". If Stocktwits, expects you to follow this, then they obviously are very privacy oriented right? They also don't want people to engage in pyramid schemes. By the way, did you know the ticker $HLF is on Stocktwits. A website claims that Herbalife is a pyramid scheme. However, you don't need to worry guys! Herbalife is a "multi-level marketing" corporation.

I'm sorry, I'm getting side tracked. Hopefully people understand some of the main points I been trying to make. Though I have a humorous tone on some points, I'm actually quite a serious guy.

Now I want to touch base on the whole issue regarding Freedom of Speech.

The US Constitution defines Freedom of Speech by stating:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Now many formalities are related to the Freedom of Speech. One thing you notice is the right to petition the government. A question begs to differ though, what if in our digital day of age, people share a digital petition that gets censored? There are many technicalities when going into what one may consider watery territory.

Now I shared two specific petitions. One made by somebody a year ago, and the other was a Traders for Financial Ethics petition. Now it doesn't matter if someone else, I or even Susan from across the hallway made one of these petitions. The importance is context. These petitions were related to a short selling firm that some people are questioning. Anyways, what happened soon led to a bizarre exchange.

The wonderful AI system of Stocktwits came after me. At first the automated system thought that the petition has little or nothing to do with the ticker symbol. An early inquiry I had on Stocktwits can be seen here.

An inquiry I sent them also stated, "Hi, this link is directly tied to the ticker I was tagging. Me tagging Nanox on a post that has mentioned multiple paragraphs in regards to Nanox isn't spam unrelated to the symbol and I suggest that strike gets removed by your automated flagging system. I have numerous accounts sending threats or insults to me on a daily basis, and misleadingly flagging my account over a rule violation that I didn't break is unfair and a form of perceived censorship.
Best Regards, Andrew"
If you are unsure about how this message I sent them was received, let us see the details to follow.

The Stocktwits founder said, "many false positives so just relax", and then the community manager immediately replied, "If you continue to post that link your account will be suspended. Our house rules do not support petitions like yours to be spammed on ticker streams.". This exchange can be seen here. Then they suggested that me posting a screenshot to the original complaint of me getting flagged by their automated system, is creating more spam. My case is really simple, one this is already about me being flagged by an AI for posting something that is noticeably tied to the stock symbol I was tagging. Two, I don't like it when people censor others in private. Three, lots of bizzare exchanges happen on Stocktwits. This is noticeable. Four, what does he mean by "petitions like yours". Notice how he didn't say all petitions.

Here is a link to the archive of my account. I also have stated to them, "honestly I am okay with my account being suspended. If this is how moderation treats certain cases like these, then I can't get behind a platform like this. Even with the people calling me a clown, as much as I don't agree with them and don't attack others, I still support their right to say it. Free speech is something not taken for granted."

I also had another exchange afterwards which can be seen here. I stated, "my recommendation is since this was a false positive and I didn't actually violate the rules, the strike is removed from my account. Also since you told me you don't want to post that link on that ticker still, going forward I won't because even though it doesn't violate the house rules, CDA 230 allows you to moderate. Then going forward, there should be more clarity on handling or avoiding false positives. If you aren't willing to reinstate my account though to healthy status, this isn't something I can support and am willing to have Stocktwits suspend my account as a result." In all honesty, after many hours I was still able to login to my account. However, I stopped logging in. I originally wanted to see if they would respond to something like this. It looks like I received no auto email confirming that strike was removed, and the lack of response while both seemed active afterwards speaks volume.

Sometimes inaction is an action. I wish for a healthy conversation about big tech and censorship. How does one garnish a fully health community? Many of the accounts who been threatening me didn't receive any action at all or a response close to this size.

It isn't even about whether a strike have been sent against my account or not. This isn't about some random dude being salty. On TradingView, I posted something telling others to follow me and linking to my site. I didn't have a paid account that time to advertise on my charts. Though it is my profile, those were TradingView's simple terms and part of their incentivized business model. That charting post was deleted, and after having a healthy conversation with TradingView's support staff, no harm said and done. I was intimidated, but at hindsight, this was actually quite helpful. What happened with TradingView isn't an example of censorship. I'm stating this story, because this isn't me being salty over some strike or something.

Anyways a few important updates for myself. My startup QuantPortal and obviously me will no longer be using Stocktwits. I think after what I said and experienced, it may not be a healthy place to garnish a following. Hopefully, the community can improve in the future.

In regards to Nanox, I have created a discord community for it as an alternative to those who want to discuss the stock outside of a stocktwits setting. I'm also of thinking of doing potentially both a cloud hosted and decentralized stock forum, or stocktwits alternative. Infact, I was thinking of building a whole decentralized alternative untop of our own SDK from the ground up. Depending on my conviction, more details may be coming.

That said, I have nothing really against the co-founders of Stocktwits. I have nothing against Howard. I do however think trying to openly express concerns may be a good first step. Perhaps Stocktwits may have a thriving community and lots of these issues change over the future. It would be good if many people wouldn't need to or be seeking out an alternative. That being said, it would be interesting to see what the future holds.

Disclosure:
Please keep in mind, everything I say is on an opinion based basis. This is not meant to be taken seriously or as actionable financial advice. Do your own due diligence and any trades/investments you do is at your own risk. We are not responsible, proceed with caution and we are trying to voice an opinion not meant to warrant action. This is solely meant to be viewed as a non actionable opinion not meant to be taken as seriously or as a form of actionable advice.

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