Online stock trading can already feel like a game, with its apps and strategies and hobbyists discussing how best it can be “played.” Furthering this gamification is the recent eruption of chat room software Discord. Initially released in 2014, Discord has held to its stance that it’s a communication platform for gamers. However, in the last year it’s become a popular place for people to discuss just about any topic, including the volatile gamble of the stock market.
If you’re someone interested in dipping your toes into trading, it might be tempting to sign up for access to one of these Discord-based stock advice groups — even if there is a fee. But is that a good idea? Let’s find out.
What even is a Discord server?
Discord is a communication software designed for gamers, allowing people to chat via text, voice or video. It functions much like Skype, though it was made specifically to connect gamers by organizing various “servers,” or chat rooms, according to topic or game. These servers are private and invite-only — for that reason, people have developed Discord servers for topics beyond video games, with some now charging others for access to the chat, and for their advice.
But… why would anyone buy advice, financial or otherwise, from randos on a gaming chat network?
It’s basically the same as purchasing an online course with access to the instructor. People have been charging for mentorship or guidance from strangers online since the beginning of the World Wide Web, and Discord just happens to be a very user-friendly, secure software that simplifies the chatroom function.
How does all that connect to the stock market?
When people want their money to grow, they usually hand it off to an expert. But some people would prefer to play with the stock market themselves, and while technically anyone can buy and trade through a variety of newer apps like Robinhood and more established financial institutions like Fidelity, there’s still a huge learning curve keeping people from making profitable decisions. That’s where these “expert”-led Discord servers come in. These “experts” sell access to their servers, where they can tell their clients the exact purchases to make, how long to hold these purchases and when to sell them again.
I can’t help noticing that you keep putting “expert” in quotation marks.
Because for many of the “experts” on Discord, it’s a self-given term — shocking, I know, but not all of the people running these servers are actually licensed to dispense financial advice. Actual Financial Advisors are required to undergo specific training and certifications to receive that title, getting educated at accredited institutions to handle your money. Many are also fiduciaries, meaning they’re legally obligated to act in your best interest.
The people running these Discord servers, on the other hand, may not have any official financial education whatsoever. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the information they distribute is wrong — they may very well be good at trading stocks — but legally, they’re not allowed to classify said information as “advice.”
Is it illegal, then?
It falls into somewhat of a grey area. Often, the people running these servers don’t explicitly claim to be selling financial advice, a transaction that, again, would require certification. Instead, they sell memberships into a program that sells notifications of stock market fluctuations. Were a financial regulatory institution to do a deep dive into such Discord servers, it’s possible they would indeed identify this practice as illegal. However, that has yet to happen. Instead, internet-based “investment companies” thrive, with few safeguards or verifiable qualifications.
Let’s look, for example, at one popular discord server, which goes by the name of Stanton Ross Investing. They charge a membership fee of $25 per week, and currently have 647 members in the free, introductory version of their server. On their Instagram, they claim to teach people how to make money in 30 minutes a day, touting possible returns of 1,500 percent. However, their website tells you next to nothing: There is no indication of who they are, where they’re located, what their credentials are or even exactly what services they’re offering.
Some stock market-related Discord servers may engage in practices that are downright illegal, such as “pumping and dumping” stocks, where a group of people intentionally, collaboratively buy stocks at a low price, raising the value, then selling high once this value has increased. Sharing insider information is similarly illegal, which some members of these Discord servers could potentially be doing.
That said, some Discord stock servers are completely free, used by people who simply enjoy having a small, secured network of fellow traders to engage with. While shady and/or illegal practices might still occur in these free servers, the absence of a fee removes the illegality surrounding the exchange of financial advice for money.
So can I, the Average Guy, make money from using these servers?
Maybe! Like any investment, it’s hard to say, and there’s never a guarantee. Many of the paid servers will advertise the growth their clients have experienced and the money they’ve made from these investments, but there’s nothing to prove that these examples are legitimate. Without any certification or ties to financial regulatory systems, it’s basically the Wild West — if you want to take a gamble and learn to trade through these paid servers, that’s your prerogative. Just don’t go tossing in your entire life savings in at once.