A polemic and apologia of the finfluencer.

Hey everyone,

I’m taking a step back from Twitter, mostly due to increased vitriol. Last night I received (and a second one today) an anonymous email that could be construed as both intensely anti-Semitic/hateful and also moderately a death threat (implying of course, being Jewish, that I should’ve or will be killed in the next genocide). While it was quite intensely over-the-top racist (I’d say almost cartoonishly so, although I think that might imply racists aren’t stupid which they are), I’ve also similarly been facing increased scrutiny and vitriol for my tweets and attempts to predict the market through options (and other) flows from more notable FinTwit personalities.

All in all, as I like to say, situationally the whole Twitter episode turned from a relatively exciting foray into finance (especially in periods where the NOPE model seems to dominate S&P movement, especially in times of more mean reverting intraday returns) into a slug. My whole intent when I started tweeting was enjoyment and networking, and unfortunately at this point the cost of continuing outweighs any perceivable benefit I could have from continuing. It doesn’t mean I will necessarily not come back; I truly enjoy networking and hopefully helping educate others. In fact, my original (and still, arguably dominant) intent for pursuing Ph.D. studies was to work in science education & popularization, and I do feel that through my whitepapers and research and tweeting I’ve helped a decent chunk of people understand at least the surface level of the options market.

I’d love kind of as a mini-sign off (or see you later, or what not) to share some ideas about the rise of the “finfluencer”, a sign of the zeitgeist of retail involvement in the markets. Despite my best intents, I could arguably have been called a finfluencer—an outsider to finance itself with a large audience and an ability to exert outsized impact on the market without potentially the merit to do (through social media, for example). The finfluencer category is not really a new one - much like everything else cultural finance and trading are right now dominant narratives in the retail world due to the market’s exuberance and the saga of Gamestop and its meme family. However, as I discussed in my posts on salience, the role of the finfluencer has only grown in prominence with the rise of social media. Is it a bad thing?

In all honesty, most finfluencers have pretty shit takes on the market. It kind of arises based on the mismatch between the skills required to actually trade and the skills required to market oneself. In certain cases these skills may be present in the same person, but by in large social media favors the compactification of information and simple narratives, which tends to… not work in practice when describing a complex dynamical system.

Moreover, the interesting and perhaps horrifying thing about the markets is, especially due to the rise of Robinhood and the retail investor, there is truly almost no barrier to entry (the same goes for social media). In 2020 especially, the rise of the meme stock (and I guess early 2021) fully Dunning-Kruger’d many of us who saw the market only go up, and misattribution of luck and skill ran rampant. Unfortunately with few exceptions, you’re not a genius for investing in Tesla or Gamestop or AMC; in fact, you just got lucky. A good way to understand this is the idea of risk-adjusted return—while the gambler you see online may inspire a ton of FOMO for posting all the yolo tendies received by chasing MVIS or PLTR or GME, in another universe his counterpart is silent as a mouse after seeing his OTM calls bled dry and his house foreclosed on.

This tends to work insidiously and reverberate exceptionally well in social media. The confluence of events—the extraordinary bullish market, the lack of barrier to entry, the hyperconnectivity of social media—distorts the meritocracy—the traders or furus or whomever you follow on social media largely are large accounts rather than actual success stories, and this becomes a self-reinforcing cycle. I’d wager in general (not as a full rule, but let’s say a correlation) there is an inverse relationship to actual skill and clout online (this isn’t to say everyone who has a large following is poor or a small following is successful, but at least hypothetically there’s a correlation).

Many of these critiques apply to me too. I am not more trustworthy or more of an authority of the markets than I was months ago. I just have more people listening. I try to use my podium to do the maximum good, and to teach others.

I joined Twitter in October 2020, and not in my wildest projections would I have assumed I’d blow up to 35,000 followers within a few months. I am not a person who enjoys the limelight. To those who know me closely, I am socially awkward to a degree, and much prefer working on things and discussing ideas than discussing or appealing to people. Worrying about what other people think or their trades or anything else seems to be toxic for me; despite claims to the contrary, I’d honestly make a terrible charlatan (mostly since I cannot keep my mouth shut, even in the times where I should).

I’ve grown immensely in the time I’ve been on Twitter, and connected with people who I would’ve never thought would take a 25 year old seriously. I’ve received opportunities for work; I’ve met interesting people, and I’ve challenged myself harder to rapidly grow and understand large breadth and some depth in finance. I’ve met amazing people, and I’ve met terrible people. There’s a bit of impostor syndrome in it too—the FinTwit community (and I imagine FinTok and all the others) is heavily male-dominated, and there’s always a nagging suspicion that the attention you receive is a function of being female, rather than a true measure of meritocracy. There is undoubtably an element of that on Twitter, but it’s truly unfortunate in both respects (both for the women who get vaulted based solely on their sex rather than prowess and for the men who do not deservingly receive the same attention).

That said, the unfortunate and obvious truth is that like most careers, media attention a career does not make. While it’s certainly entertaining to a degree, at the end of the day it’s hard to tell if you’re the Daphne Bridgerton-esque debutante (you’re probably not) or the Sunday entertainment for the pros to gawk and potentially mock. Most people in trading kind of end up sucking at it (retail-wise), and unless you focus quantitatively it’s hard to really convert it to a career.

It still very much remains to be seen if my “career” on Twitter will pay dividends later on. I think it likely will. It was a fairly anomalous period of time for most of us, and unfortunately despite my best efforts in some cases my research (options-induced illiquidity in the markets, the Gamestop story, etc.) may have provided too convenient and compactified of a narrative (and hence grabbed the media attention).

What I honestly did not expect was the vitriol along the way. This was likely my naivete. To give an anonymized list of things I’ve encountered along the way:

1) For having the true audacity of presenting female online, I’ve repeatedly had various online folks criticize my appearance. Hence the rub on podcasts—it’s very difficult to me in media appearances to not have to worry how I look. How many guys can say the same?

2) I’ve received multiple rounds of hate-mail, although the latest one (the anti-Semitic death threats) takes the cake.

3) I’ve been blocked randomly by folks, and received duplicitous hatred from formerly important people in finance (e.g. deciding to block me and publicly attack my work and character after I wouldn’t play along with petty online drama).

4) I’ve had random people message reporters or podcasts I’ve been on, criticizing them for talking to me.

5) I’ve been called a charlatan or scammer, nevermind giving out my whitepaper and data for free for months (and using the first month of nopechart simply to donate money directly to charity).

6) I’ve had folks actively try to harass me, silence me, or spread malicious rumors (or use fake threats of law enforcement for various non-issues).

7) I’ve had people insult me for asking “basic” questions.

I noticed a complete shift in tonality from many folks when my account entered hypergrowth in January and February. At first, as a finfluencer, you’re everyone’s friend. Until you’re apparently competition, or too big for your own good.

I’ve always said this and I’ll keep saying this: always remember the human. It’s a much nicer experience in many ways to be anonymous, free from the confines of basic human empathy. It’s a much nastier experience to represent your real self, your true self, where your opinions come with the baggage of actually holding you accountable. In almost all cases, my adversary has been a host of anonymous accounts (or perhaps the same people), who feel free to pull the punches while I must still be well, Lily Francus.

Was it worth it? I can’t really say. I would argue yes. It’s been mostly amazing. I’m thrilled to learn so much, but it’s time for me to go home and work on my models as I always have. I’ll still be blogging avidly, and active on the NOPE discord to talk to folks. I may return to Twitter sooner or later, but probably not in the same way.

Cheers,

Lily