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SEC Charges Eight Social Media Influencers in $100 Million Stock Manipulation Scheme Promoted on Discord and Twitter – SEC.gov

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Washington D.C., Dec. 14, 2022 —

The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced charges against eight individuals in a $100 million securities fraud scheme in which they used the social media platforms Twitter and Discord to manipulate exchange-traded stocks.

According to the SEC, since at least January 2020, seven of the defendants promoted themselves as successful traders and cultivated hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter and in stock trading chatrooms on Discord. These seven defendants allegedly purchased certain stocks and then encouraged their substantial social media following to buy those selected stocks by posting price targets or indicating they were buying, holding, or adding to their stock positions. However, as the complaint alleges, when share prices and/or trading volumes rose in the promoted securities, the individuals regularly sold their shares without ever having disclosed their plans to dump the securities while they were promoting them.

“As our complaint states, the defendants used social media to amass a large following of novice investors and then took advantage of their followers by repeatedly feeding them a steady diet of misinformation, which resulted in fraudulent profits of approximately $100 million,” said Joseph Sansone, Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Market Abuse Unit. “Today’s action exposes the true motivation of these alleged fraudsters and serves as another warning that investors should be wary of unsolicited advice they encounter online.”

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The following seven individuals were charged with securities fraud:

Name                           State of Residence      Twitter Handle

Perry Matlock               Texas                            @PJ_Matlock

Edward Constantin       Texas                           @MrZackMorris

Thomas Cooperman    California                     @ohheytommy

Gary Deel                     California                     @notoriousalerts

Mitchell Hennessey      New Jersey                  @Hugh_Henne

Stefan Hrvatin              Florida                         @LadeBackk

John Rybarcyzk           Texas                           @Ultra_Calls

The complaint further charges Daniel Knight (Twitter Handle @DipDeity), of Texas, with aiding and abetting the alleged scheme by, among other things, co-hosting a podcast in which he promoted many of the other individuals as expert traders and provided them with a forum for their manipulative statements. Knight also traded in concert with the other defendants and regularly generated profits from the manipulation.

The SEC’s complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, seeks permanent injunctions, disgorgement, prejudgment interest, and civil penalties against each defendant, as well as a penny stock bar against Hrvatin. Criminal charges against all eight individuals also were filed in a parallel action brought by the Department of Justice’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas.

The SEC’s investigation, which is ongoing, is being handled by Andrew Palid, David Scheffler, and Michele T. Perillo of the Market Abuse Unit (MAU) in the Boston Regional Office, with assistance from Darren Boerner of the MAU, Stuart Jackson, Kathryn Schumann-foster, and Marina Martynova of the Division of Risk and Economic Analysis (DERA) and Howard Kaplan of the Office of Investigative and Market Analytics. The investigation resulted from a referral from the Division of Examinations by Mark A. Gera, John Kachmor, Nitish Bahadur, and Raymond Tan in the Boston Regional Office. The litigation will be led by David D’Addio and Amy Burkart of the Boston Regional Office.

The SEC appreciates the assistance of the Criminal Fraud Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

The SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy has issued an Investor Alert on Social Media and Investment Fraud. Investors can find additional information, including the warning signs of fraud, at Investor.gov.

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Opinion: Why is the government spending $21-million advertising on social media such as TikTok? – The Globe and Mail

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Opinion: Why is the government spending $21-million advertising on social media such as TikTok?  The Globe and Mail

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Why social media makes you feel bad

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Have you ever found yourself scrolling through social media and noticed you felt a bit down? Maybe a little envious? Why aren’t you on a yacht? Running a startup? Looking amazing 24/7?

The good news is you are not alone. Although social media has some benefits, it can also make us feel a little depressed.

Why does social media make us feel bad?

As humans we inherently compare ourselves to others to determine our self-worth. Psychologists call this social comparison theory.

We primarily make two types of comparisons: upward and downward comparisons.

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Upward comparisons occur when we compare ourselves to someone else (in real life or on social media) and feel they are better than us (an unfavourable comparison for us) in whatever domain we are assessing (such as status, beauty, abilities, success, and so on).

For example, comparing your day at work to your friend’s post from the ski fields (we’re looking at you Dave!) is likely to be an upward comparison. Another example is making appearance comparisons which can make you feel worse about yourself or your looks .

Although upward comparison can sometimes motivate you to do better, this depends on the change being achievable and on your esteem. Research suggests upward comparisons may be particularly damaging if you have low self-esteem.

In contrast, downward comparisons occur when we view ourselves more favourably than the other person – for example, by comparing yourself to someone less fortunate. Downward comparisons make us feel better about ourselves but are rare in social media because people don’t tend to post about the mundane realities of life.

 

Comparisons in social media

Social media showcases the best of people’s lives. It presents a carefully curated version of reality and presents it as fact. Sometimes, as with influencers, this is intentional but often it is unconscious bias. We are just naturally more likely to post when we are happy, on holiday or to share successes – and even then we choose the best version to share.

When we compare ourselves to what we see on social media, we typically make upward comparisons which make us feel worse. We compare ourselves on an average day to others on their best day. In fact, it’s not even their best day. It’s often a perfectly curated, photoshopped, produced, filter-applied moment. It’s not a fair comparison.

That’s not to say social media is all bad. It can help people feel supportedconnected, and get information. So don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, keep your social media use in check with these tips.

 

Concrete ways you can make yourself feel better about social media

Monitor your reactions. If social media is enjoyable, you may not need to change anything – but if it’s making you exhausted, depressed or anxious, or you are losing time to mindless scrolling, it’s time for change.

Avoid comparisons. Remind yourself that comparing your reality with a selected moment on social media is an unrealistic benchmark. This is especially the case with high-profile accounts who are paid to create perfect content.

Be selective. If you must compare, search for downward comparisons (with those who are worse off) or more equal comparisons to help you feel better. This might include unfollowing celebrities, focusing on real posts by friends, or using reality focused platforms like BeReal.

Redefine success. Influencers and celebrities make luxury seem like the norm. Most people don’t live in pristine homes and sip barista-made coffee in white sheets looking perfect. Consider what real success means to you and measure yourself against that instead.

Practise gratitude. Remind yourself of things that are great in your life, and celebrate your accomplishments (big and small!). Create a “happy me” folder of your favourite life moments, pics with friends, and great pictures of yourself, and look at this if you find yourself falling into the comparison trap.

Unplug. If needed, take a break, or cut down. Avoid mindless scrolling by moving tempting apps to the last page of your phone or use in-built focus features on your device. Alternatively, use an app to temporarily block yourself from social media.

Engage in real life. Sometimes social media makes people notice what is missing in their own lives, which can encourage growth. Get out with friends, start a new hobby, embrace life away from the screen.

Get amongst nature. Nature has health and mood benefits that combat screen time.

Be the change. Avoid only sharing the picture-perfect version of your life and share (in a safe setting) your real life. You’d be surprised how this will resonate with others. This will help you and them feel better.

Seek help. If you are feeling depressed or anxious over a period of time, get support. Talk to your friends, family or a GP about how you are feeling. Alternatively contact one of the support lines like LifelineKids Helpline, or 13Yarn.

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Canada adds Russian media personalities, companies in latest round of sanctions

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OTTAWA — Canada has announced it is imposing a new round of sanctions on Russian media personalities and companies accused of spreading disinformation about Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly announced the latest sanctions against 38 individuals and 16 entities, saying those affected are propagating Russian President Vladimir Putin’s lies.

Among those added to Canada’s blacklist are several Russian singers, including former contestants on the popular Eurovision singing contest, as well as actors and athletes.

The list also includes one of Russia’s largest state-owned media groups, MIA Rossiya Segodnya, which owns and operates a large number of Russian-language companies.

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Many of the new additions had already been sanctioned by Canada’s allies following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago.

The new measures come amid questions about the effectiveness of Canada’s sanctions regime.

The Canadian Press reported this week that as of June 7, Canada had ordered $123 million in assets within Canada frozen, and $289 million in transactions had been blocked under sanctions prohibitions related to Russia.

But by late December, the RCMP said only $122 million in assets were listed as seized, and $292 million in transactions had been blocked despite hundreds more people associated with Russia being put on the sanctions list.

The police force did not provide an explanation for why the sums reported by financial institutions had hardly changed during that period.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 3, 2023.

 

The Canadian Press

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