Invisible Man vs. Invisible Hand

I suspect that folks who pick stock based on online gossip are akin to senior citizens who spend their life's savings on magazines from Publisher's Clearinghouse so they'll win the sweepstakes. If I'm right—and I am—it's time to change the filters in the gene pool.

Please, people. Think how easy it is to get online. Now, think how hard it is to get an appointment with Alan Greenspan, or anybody else who might conceivably have the Answers to the stock market.

See the difference? Now, do you truly believe that people who know what the hell they're doing are waiting for you online, traveling under the name of HotLegz4vr?

Some people would similarly cry "bunkum" at a system that claims it can guide the faithful to double and quadruple returns in the market if they just "gamble" and eschew "negativity." I'm speaking of Seattle's Wade Cook Financial Corp., whose radio-friendly leader has parlayed a natural cabbie's gift for blather into investment books, seminars, and tapes—and millions of dollars.

It has been brought to the attention of Wade Cook that sometimes people say bad stuff online. About him. Under cover of names like "HotLegz4vr." In a gamble with breathtakingly remarkable potential negative returns, Cook's corporation is attempting to file suit against 10 Yahoo! users for accusing Cook himself of wrongdoing—just as soon as they figure out which 10 users made the accusations. To that end, Wade Cook has dropped a subpoena on Yahoo!, demanding to know which kids flung the spitball at the blackboard.

Nice try. Anyone who has signed up for a Yahoo! account knows that there's nothing to prevent users from giving either no information or false information, since no money changes hands. Yahoo! reveals personal information when it's subpoenaed out of it, but trying to attach real names and addresses to the likes of delusional5 and StockerTrader may not be possible. (Perhaps they'll have better luck with the Yahoo! ID "_Wade_Cook_"?) It's conceivable that techies could narrow users down to a particular ISP, but beyond that the going gets sticky and the users get elusive, especially if they actively cover their tracks. (Wade Cook has announced that it's going to all this trouble not only for itself but to Protect the Internet, which means that resources lost whilst teching and lawyering its way to a dead end could be more than repaid by friendly press coverage of its efforts. Not that I'm cynical.)

Yahoo!, meanwhile, is protected by previous rulings that equate hosting an online discussion area with putting up a newsstand (the "innocent dissemination" defense). In other words, Wade Cook isn't angling for Yahoo!'s money—that would have been too pretty a piece of irony from a company that specializes in predicting tumor-like stock growth.

This suit whiffs of desperation to shore up a reputation assailed by everyone from the Motley Fool to the Texas Attorney General's Office to dedicated Wade-watcher Gary Wall. All of those guys are out of reach when they talk about claims that are too good to be true and corporate profits that come not from stock picks but from hefty seminar, tape, and book revenues. And it's probably not feasible to file suit against the merciless Yahoo! stock ticker, documenting a nasty slide that's seen Wade Cook stock lose 87 percent of its value over the last 52 weeks. It's easier to pick a stupid argument that Cook might actually win than to square off against fate, the feds, or the First Amendment.

But there are two sides to every argument, even stupid ones. It's just such suckers as those Yahoo! board dwellers that grease the wheels of a thousand stock-picking "systems." The Net merely allows them to move faster, just as it turns the 19th century's dissatisfied snake-oil customers into millennial flame warriors. It's also begotten this funhouse-mirror Net economy, which when it shatters is going to hurt the HotLegz4vrs of the world lots more than the Wade Cooks. Wade Cook Financial Corp. most likely can't locate those Yahoo! users, but all those patsy investors are going to have a lot more trouble locating their money when the bubble bursts. On the whole, I'd say they rather deserve each other.

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