Reddit recovered from an hour-long outage that affected thousands of users on Wednesday afternoon as volatility returned to stocks including GameStop GME.N> and AMC that were at the center of a slugfest between retail traders and Wall Street.
Videogame retailer GameStop, which had closed up about 104% on Wednesday and was once again a favorite pick on the WallStreetBets page, doubled in extended trading, even as the social media platform was not fully functional.
Analysts that follow the stock offered several reasons for the surge, including a corporate reshuffle. The firm had on Tuesday said its finance head Jim Bell will step down next month.
Reddit, now more famous for its day-trading forum where individual traders recently triggered a rally in many shorted stocks, has faced several outages in recent months.
At the peak of the latest outage, there were more than 52,000 reports of people facing issues with the platform, according to outage tracking website Downdetector.
To be sure, Downdetector only tracks outages by collating status reports from a series of sources, including user-submitted errors on its platform. The outage might have affected a larger number of users.
SwaggyStocks, which aggregates sentiment on shares discussed on WallStreetBets which has about 9 million participants, showed GameStop and AMC were the most discussed stocks on the page.
Shares of the cinema theater operator AMC, which closed up 18%, were up another 15% after the bell.
Discussion app Clubhouse appears to have been knocked offline in China, prompting fears it has been blocked by the state’s so-called “Great Firewall”.
The invite-only app uses audio rather than text to let people chat in rooms.
Until recently, it had mainly been used by tech enthusiasts in Silicon Valley – but exploded in popularity in China in recent weeks.
Unlike many Chinese apps, it is uncensored – leading to discussions around topics rarely debated online.
Chinese authorities retain significant control over what is published on the internet, censoring search results and limiting visibility of posts on many topics.
But the audio of users’ chats in the Clubhouse app is not recorded, allowing some measure of privacy – something which was exploited last weekend before the apparent block kicked in.
While Clubhouse was active, it hosted the kind of conversations rarely seen online in China.
BBC reporters observing the discussions found one room with thousands of participants, from both China and Taiwan, politely discussing many sensitive topics. Beijing considers Taiwan a breakaway province, but Taiwan sees itself as a sovereign state.
The topics discussed on the app included the pros and cons of democracy; controversial policies in Hong Kong, and towards the Uighur ethnic group in western China; as well as the unification of Taiwan and China.
But participants from both sides also shared stories about visiting each others’ homelands for the first time.
Its soaring popularity – and the fact that it is invite-only – led to invites being sold for up to $77 (£56) each, the Financial Times reported.
But many China-watchers listening in over the weekend questioned how long such open and uncensored conversations would be allowed to continue.
On Monday, thousands of social media users simultaneously reported the app had been knocked offline.
No official statement about the app – or its potential future in China – has yet been made.
Analysis: A delayed reaction
By Kerry Allen, China media analyst
Clubhouse will have created a headache for the Chinese censors, who aren’t especially active during the annual Spring Festival holiday period.
Overseas apps are often unavailable to view the moment they start to gain momentum in China, but many China-based users were able to have conversations with people overseas for days before suddenly finding themselves unable to access their accounts.
Its momentum was perhaps unexpected: in recent years, domestic phone-makers like Huawei have surged in popularity, and Clubhouse is only available on iPhones.
It is not yet clear if Clubhouse has been blocked in China, but more than 100,000 Weibo users on Monday saw posts containing the hashtag #ClubhouseBlocked, before Sina Weibo suddenly started showing “no results” – clear evidence of censorship.
Social media company Reddit was experiencing problems on its website briefly on Saturday, according to outage monitoring website Downdetector.com.
Customers reported trouble logging in and sending messages on its website. The outage affected regions such as New York, Boston and Washington in United States and Toronto in Canada, according to an outage map on Downdetector’s website. bit.ly/2NLGrxbit.ly/2NLGrxX
Reddit said in an email statement that it was not tracking any issues with the website today.
“We did have some issues with higher error rates this week … It meant slower load times for some users but we were never hard down,” a Reddit spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
The status page of Reddit showed that the website was operational. (bit.ly/3t7OntE)
Reddit has come into forefront after a social media chatroom on its platform, “wallstreetbets,” led to a so-called “Reddit rally,” which has helped attract a flood of retail cash into stocks such as GameStop Corp, burning hedge funds that had bet against the company and roiling the broader market. Wallstreetbets has around 6 million members.
If you ever needed proof of the power of “Big Tech” then the downfall of Parler on Monday morning is a good place to start.
I, like many others, logged on to the controversial social network to see what would happen after 11:59 Pacific Time in the US.
This was the deadline Amazon had given the app to find a new host service before it booted the platform offline for allegedly containing violent content.
It was being seen as a significant moment in ongoing efforts by US tech giants to “deplatform” Donald Trump and some of his extreme supporters after the US Capitol Hill riot last week.
The clock struck 12:00 though and nothing happened. I and millions of other users were still able to search and post just as usual.
But then, like dominos, users around the world starting reporting problems. For me, at about 12:10, everything stopped working. No content found, a message read.
With a flick of a switch then, Parler, a fast-growing app seen by some as a free-speech alternative to Twitter, was no more. For now.
Parler can, and probably will be able to, find a new host provider but losing Amazon Web Services (AWS) – the largest website hosting provider in the world – means other major providers are likely to turn away their business too.
Technology and ethics researcher Stephanie Hare says it’s not the first time a major US tech firm has taken a site down for similar reasons.
“Amazon’s action against Parler is not unprecedented, as we have seen other US companies such as Cloudflare remove content delivery services and DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) protection and support to white supremacist website The Daily Stormer in 2017 and 8Chan in 2019 after that website was used by a gunman to post materials before he went on to massacre people in El Paso, Texas,” she said.
It’s not just AWS which has taken action against Parler. Google and Apple have also kicked the service off their app stores too.
Again, this is not unheard of.
Gab, another website billing itself as a free-speech platform but accused of being a haven to the far-right and extremists, is also banned from the app stores. It can still be accessed through a web browser and claims to have seen a surge in users in recent days.
What is unprecedented though is the targeted approach against the president.
Since Mr Trump’s supporters attacked the US Capitol last week, he has been banned from using some of the biggest social platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitch.
YouTube has deleted some of his videos but said his channel is effectively on its last chance.
European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have described the move as “problematic”.
EU commissioner Thierry Breton described the events on Capitol Hill as “the 9/11 moment of social media”, writing in Politico that “the fact that a CEO can pull the plug on Potus’ [President of the United States] loudspeaker without any checks and balances is perplexing”.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said social networks were now “taking editorial decisions”, adding that platforms were “choosing who should and shouldn’t have a voice”.
Elsewhere, Alexei Navalny, Russian politician and outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin, likened Mr Trump’s ban on Twitter to state censorship.
He tweeted: “The ban of Donald Trump on Twitter is an unacceptable act of censorship. Of course, Twitter is a private company, but we have seen many examples in Russia and China of such private companies becoming the state’s best friends and the enablers when it comes to censorship.”
Covid changed social networks
The fact is, social networks are private companies. Just as a private members’ club can make house rules for its members, so can the likes of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter.
One of the key rules imposed has been, until now, to consider politicians’ content important to public discourse.
Platforms including Facebook and Twitter said they would therefore give high-profile users like the US president more leeway when it comes to violating user policies.
But since the start of the coronavirus pandemic things have changed significantly and the companies have taken increased action against world leaders.
In March, Facebook and Twitter deleted posts from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro for Covid-19 misinformation.
It wasn’t until May that Twitter took similar action against the US president when moderators put a warning behind a tweet that they said glorified violence.
The president tweeted about the Black Lives Matter protests saying: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts”.
Social media commentator Matt Navarra says Mr Trump’s ban sets “a pivotal precedent” in the way platforms control who can use them and what users can post.
Trump vows to fight back
Some analysts think the action may be a turning point for tech moderation worldwide.
On Monday Facebook announced it had removed a network of accounts it says were directly linked to the Ugandan government, and being used to allegedly manipulate the forthcoming election.
Privacy attorney and technologist Whitney Merrill suggests the move points to a change in moderation stance from the tech giants.
“Social networks’ rules and guidelines are evolving over time which is normal. But they aren’t being consistently applied throughout the world. I think the president’s removal might be the beginning of a purge for similar behaviour globally.”
In his final hours on Twitter, Mr Trump once again blamed a piece of US legislation called Section 230 for “banning” free speech. During his presidency he threatened to repeal the law which makes social networks largely exempt from liability for their users’ post.
Many argue that removing the protection would actually harm free speech as networks would be forced to moderate far more than they currently do.
US President-elect Joe Biden has also stated that he would like to repeal the law to increase moderation and reduce the spread of fake news.
In the same final tweet Mr Trump said that he has been negotiating with “various other sites” and that there would be “a big announcement soon”.
If the events of recent days are anything to go by, Mr Trump and some of his supporters face an uphill struggle against not just lawmakers but tech giants too before they can establish themselves on mainstream social media.
Parler has dropped offline after Amazon pulled support for its so-called “free speech” social network.
The platform had been reliant on the tech giant’s Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud computing service to provide its alternative to Twitter.
It is popular among supporters of Donald Trump, although the president is not a user.
Amazon took the action after finding dozens of posts on the service which it said encouraged violence.
Google and Apple had already removed Parler from their app stores towards the end of last week saying it had failed to comply with their content-moderation requirements.
However, it had still been accessible via the web – although visitors had complained of being unable to create new accounts over the weekend, without which it was not possible to view its content.
‘All ditched us’
Parler has been online since 2018, and may return if it can find an alternative host.
However, chief executive John Matze told Fox News on Sunday that “every vendor from text message services to email providers to our lawyers all ditched us too”.
“We’re going to try our best to get back online as quickly as possible, but we’re having a lot of trouble because every vendor we talk to says they won’t work with us because if Apple doesn’t approve and Google doesn’t approve, they won’t,” he added.
AWS’s move is the latest in a series of actions affecting social media following the rioting on Capitol Hill last week.
However, Amazon told Parler that it had seen a “steady increase in this violent content on your website, all of which violates our terms”, adding that it did not believe the platform’s administrators had an “effective process” that could tackle the problem.
Examples it provided include posts calling for the killing of Democrats, Muslims, Black Lives Matter leaders, and mainstream media journalists.
Parler’s downfall appears to have benefited Gab – another “free speech” social network that is popular with far-right commentators.
It has claimed to have “gained more users in the past two days than we did in our first two years of existing”.
Parler has long been a home for what you might call untouchables, people who had been excluded from mainstream services for offences such as blatant racism or incitement to violence.
During a brief excursion onto the site over the weekend, I observed plenty of examples of such behaviour, with users exhibiting vile anti-Semitism, displaying Nazi symbols such as the swastika and uttering incoherent threats against those they perceive to be enemies of America.
But as Amazon’s deadline approached something like panic took hold, with users desperately urging their followers to join them on other platforms.
Most seemed to accept that Parler was doomed, while vowing to continue their fight elsewhere.
“Well this is the end,” wrote one user, who proclaimed his support for the American Nazi Party.