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'Robin Hood' Groups Win New Fans, Thanks To GameStop Controversy

Angry online traders looking for the Robinhood stock app should also not cast blame on the 1938 movie <em>The Adventures of Robin Hood</em>, starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland.
FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images
Angry online traders looking for the Robinhood stock app should also not cast blame on the 1938 movie The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland.

The Robinhood stock-trading app sparked outrage after it halted trading on GameStop and other companies at the center of a battle between small investors and hedge funds.

Suddenly, the World Wide Robin Hood Society noticed a flood of interest online – and the U.K. group politely clarified that it isn't the Robin Hood some commenters were looking for. It gained tens of thousands of new followers anyway.

"We started with 350 yesterday and we now have over 50k" followers on Twitter, the group said on Friday in a message to NPR.

"Lovely to have all these new followers," the society tweeted, "can we just check that you know that you're following The World Wide Robin Hood Society in Nottingham and not the Robin Hood App .. if so .. a big welcome from Sherwood."

For the record, the World Wide Robin Hood Society is not a cosplay group for enthusiasts who want to don a pair of green tights or an embroidered bodice. It's devoted to promoting the legend of the hero who famously stole from the rich and gave to the poor.

But on Twitter, people flocked to the society's account — @robinhood — after the Robinhood stock-trading app became embroiled in the controversy on Wall Street. The app blocked trading on several stocks that hedge funds had shorted but that were seeing huge gains, driven by small investors in Reddit's r/wallstreetbets community.

The move triggered a class action lawsuit and allegations that the app was essentially manipulating the market to protect wealthy hedge funds at the expense of regular people.

"Pro tip," tweeted Charles Payne, of the Fox Business Network. "Don't call yourself Robin Hood if you are going to turn your back on the folks in Sherwood forest after one phone call from the Sheriff of Nottingham."

The company has denied those accusations, and it said it would allow limited trading on the volatile stocks to resume on Friday.

As people sought ways to vent anger and skepticism online, the World Wide Robin Hood Society cleared the air about its mission. In the spirit of Sherwood Forest's famous renegade, it welcomed new followers: "You can now consider yourself to be a fully fledged member of our band of outlaws, so put a feather in your cap and shout 'Huzzah!' "

A similar clarification came in the U.S., where Robin Hood is also the name of a nonprofit in New York City that has been fighting poverty since 1988, providing millions of dollars in aid to families.

Noting its status as a charitable organization, the group said, "We are not affiliated with any for-profit businesses that use a similar name."

Rather than simply turning away, Robin Hood communications director Kevin Thompson said, people seemed to appreciate the way the nonprofit introduced itself.

"We've gotten a pickup in small-dollar contributions," he said in a phone call Friday.

In some cases, Thompson said, people told the charity that the money they were donating came from profits they made off of their GameStop stock.

Like the eponymous archer, Thompson said of the New York charity, "our mission is about increasing economic mobility."

With the Wall Street controversy putting new attention on their namesake, the two groups even connected.

"Hope your day is going as well as ours," the U.K. Robin Hood said in a tweet to the New York Robin Hood, adding a "Huzzah!!" for good measure.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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