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Mistaken identity: Angry day traders target wrong Robin Hood, threaten nonprofit CEO Wes Moore | COMMENTARY

A protester outside investing app Robinhood's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., decries trading limits on GameStop and other stocks. Many mistakenly directed their anger toward the non-profit Robin Hood Foundation. (Ian C. Bates/The New York Times)
A protester outside investing app Robinhood's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., decries trading limits on GameStop and other stocks. Many mistakenly directed their anger toward the non-profit Robin Hood Foundation. (Ian C. Bates/The New York Times) (Ian C. Bates/The New York Times)

My Twitter mentions were the first sign anything was amiss.

“Any one hot @iamwesmoore address?” one tweet asked.

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“Corporate scum. Someone’s gonna find you,” another tweet said. “I would never do such a thing but if I’m thinking it, at least 3.5 million others are.”

Over the course of the day, dozens if not hundreds of similar messages, comments and emails, made their way to me. Some too profane to reference here. Many of them threatening.

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“I hope your house gets set on fire,” read one comment on Instagram.

This online mob had descended on me because they were upset that the investing app, Robinhood, suspended trading on certain stocks like GameStop and AMC as Reddit and other social media outlets tried to drive up trading of those shares.

But it didn’t have anything to do with me.

I am the CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation, one of the nation’s largest anti-poverty nonprofits. We invested over $200 million last year in schools, workforce development programs, emergency food and cash assistance for families affected by COVID and other programs. We share a name with the investing app, although our Robin Hood is two words and theirs is one, but that’s it.

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The people messaging me were understandably frustrated about the trading shutdown: Once they began to benefit, the rules changed. It was the latest example of hardworking people feeling that the rules and the deck were stacked against them, feeling that the systems of power and opportunity are tilted against them.

They sought out the CEO of Robinhood, the investment app, and mistakenly found me, however.

In their anger, they prioritized their emotions over the facts. Saying something threatening or disparaging to the person they believed wronged them was more important than taking the time to make sure they were even targeting the right person.

They also prioritized their emotions over any strategy or potential positive outcome, as well. Even if their outrage had been directed at the right person, what were the insults and threats supposed to achieve?

Reddit, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have created platforms for people to share their ideas and perspectives, and sometimes that is a good thing, but I saw firsthand how they can be an amplifier of misinformation and a channel where people think they can say anything that is on their mind without consequences.

I’ve always believed in the power of the truth. But in reflecting on this, I’ve come to realize that I have been raised to believe in the power of truth because it was virtuous and good. The grandson of a minister, I found strength and wisdom from the gospel in hard times. Love rejoices with the truth, Scripture tells us.

As a young U.S. Army soldier, I was trained to never lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate those who do.

But the truth matters not just because of the righteousness of it. The truth matters because mistruths can have serious and destructive consequences.

We’ve seen important reminders about the insidious capacity of mistruths already this year. A violent mob stormed the Capitol motivated by a lie about our election, and people lost their lives. What happened to me and my family because of this misunderstanding could too easily have turned tragic.

This is a moment where access to information has never been higher. But with that access comes a powerful capacity to spread lies and disinformation with speed — and sometimes deadly efficacy.

We must take mistruths seriously. This is a moment where we have the capacity and the critical need to connect, to advance opportunity, to build a more equitable society out of the ashes brought on by an unprecedented pandemic that has laid our inequalities bare. The platforms that create that unprecedented capacity to connect — Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others — must also take responsibility for the ability of mistruths to spread and consequences that come from that. As my safety was being threatened and my character disparaged, those platforms did nothing to promote the truth.

But amid all of this, I remain optimistic in the ability and the goodness of people. In the end, the online mob was outnumbered by people who knew me and followed my work. People who knew the truth and spread it. It was those people who understood that if misinformation and lies continue to spread and be embraced, it could be destructive.

Let their actions be our example. It is not enough to know the truth. If you know it, you must embrace it, and you must share it. Together, we can lay the foundation upon which we can build the progress we need.

Wes Moore (moore@robinhood.org) is a nonprofit executive, a bestselling author, combat veteran and resident of Baltimore, where he lives with his wife and two children. His book with Erica Green, “Five Days,” exploring the uprisings that followed Freddie Gray’s death from a kaleidoscope of perspectives, was released last year.

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