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Average Joe lost his job today because the company he used to work for moved to China. As a retaliation, he wants to destroy the economic system/or just destroy the wealth of the company by crashing the stock exchange (not stack exchange!) where the company is listed.

  • He lives in the United States.
  • All his possessions are valued between 500 000 to 1 000 000 USD. He is willing to sell all the things he own for his plan to succeed.
  • He is not working in the financial sector. He's not a trader, so he can't manipulate the exchanges that way.
  • He has plenty of free time.
  • The market capitalization of the company is estimated at around 25 billion USD.

Can he take his revenge?

Specific goal, either or both:

  • Make the value of the company's share fall.
  • Make the stock market index fall down of several points.
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  • $\begingroup$ I'm not certain this question is a proper fit for Worldbuilding SE. The help center specifically mentions that questions about the actions of individuals are off topic. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jul 17 '15 at 4:27
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Bribery, viruses, and fake news.

The interesting thing about stock markets is that at least half of all trades are performed by computers running algorithms. These transactions are called high-frequency trading (HFT). By some strange combination of events this process caused a market crash in 2010 called the 2010 Flash Crash. Temporarily, $1 trillion in market value disappeared, poof. Before that event, HFT was up to 73% of trades (by volume) in some markets; since then it has reduced to the 50% volumes of today.

If your story took place before 2010 he may be able to more easily manipulate the trading computers through bribery or a clever computer virus to specifically crash the stock of his target company. He would not need to control all of them, he would only need to create a trend which the algorithms would interpret as get rid-of-this-stock-right-now. This would include creating some fake news articles related to a detrimental change of management or product failure as well as having several computers begin to sell off the stock in the company.

Preventing a recovery is quite difficult, but the original goal of significantly lowering the value would be accomplished.

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In general, if it was possible to tank a $25 billion dollar company's stock enough to qualify as "revenge," we'd see organized crime using it as an extortion technique. They have far more resources than Average Joe.

So what does Average Joe have that is unique? Well, he worked at the company. The most effective approach would be to release some trade secret or illegal activities. Joe did remember to gather dirt on his employer first, right?

No? Forgot to gather dirt? Don't worry. In this day and age, you can always just make up dirt. News doesn't have to be true to affect the stock market, just juicy. There are well known tricks in Social Media to make yourself appear to be artificially popular, then leak some false story and let it go viral. Ideally mix several topics which are currently politically sensitive. In the current US environment, a story which includes an African-American lesbian could probably raise people's attention, but if Joe only gets one shot, he should probably stick to some creative mix of polygamous bestiality and a cult of antivaxxing nuclear arms dealers. To quote a comic by Howard Tayler, "There is no overkill. There is only "'open fire!' and 'I need to reload!'"

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    $\begingroup$ Good point about the fact that it could be used as an extortion technique if it were something feasible. It is clearly a difficult thing to achieve. $\endgroup$ – Neil Jul 17 '15 at 6:19
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for reference to 70 Maxim for Maximally Effective Mercenaries. Such a good comic. $\endgroup$ – Green Jul 17 '15 at 14:28
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    $\begingroup$ I was okay with a cult of polygamous bestiality, why should I limit my love to only one holy dog! and of I totally accept buying nuclear weapons to defend all of the holy puppies you love. But not vaccinating your pets/wives!? that's just wrong! I mean really, I have standards :P $\endgroup$ – dsollen Jul 17 '15 at 18:47
  • $\begingroup$ Or perhaps leak convincing looking forged documents and accounts which show the company to be near insolvent. Back this up by using some of your money to hire hackers to attack their finance systems causing capital and assets to go missing (doesn't need to be stolen just destroy records make it hard to trace properly in a hurry) or at the very least block the outgoing payments from reaching their suppliers and partners on time thus "proving" a cash flow crisis. Observe as lenders, suppliers and partners shun the company to immunise themselves from further exposure and the stock market panics. $\endgroup$ – MttJocy Dec 18 '16 at 23:33
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forget money, trading, or any economic approach; he lacks the money or influence to handle those. No, the most effective way is far simpler, he should take his cue from the squirrels.

A squirrel has drastically hurt the stock exchange simply by shorting out the electronics by accident. He could perform far more effective forms of sabotage relatively easily, cutting power to the NY stock exchange for a week or two would be enough to have a small, but real, impact on the exchange; and could be done with simple research into electronics and wire cutters until they get smart enough to guard against your attacks. Even then, you just need to cut the power further away from where their guarding. If you can manage to be not attract attention you can keep power away from them for quite awhile; most of our electronic network isn't really protected or that hard to get to; we just presume no one is malicious like this.

And that's only to start. The best method to kill the stock exchange is fear; any type of fear. Look at what 9/11 did to our economy; that damage wasn't due to lost of the trade buildings; it was due to general fear. Terrorism is the most effective attack.

This is the part where I start expanding on the idea I started writing to see how far I can take the concept in most answers. Unfortunately...as I sit here and start expanding on it I realize how terrifying the most 'optimal' ways of destroying the stock market via fear are. We will not be discussing the best options I think, I prefer not to write a terror-how-to book.

However, lets try one less-horrible example, assuming your character isn't so insane as to do anything too horrible to others (though, really destroying the stock market is Already a horrible thing that will cause massive suffering, even if indirectly). All he needs to do is get people afraid to either work for his old company, or buy his old company's product. Imagine he slips some mild poison into cans of the "Dr MountColaDew" soda the company sells, nothing lethal; but enough to cause sickness, diareha, and general unpleasantness. The media attention would cause even a small number of causes of mild sickness to be blown way out of proportion and cause everyone to avoid the companies product, doing a good amount of harm. This tactic has been used on small scale by crazy people in the past, and has been shown to greatly harm a companies sales figures.

Incidentally, this is all written on the presumption that this character is a sociopath, because frankly he must be. A stock market crash, or even a single company crash, is going to hurt a massive number of people. For starters more then one suicide will likely occur if even one company suddenly crashes. One company going down will bring down the market as a whole, and these sort of things tend to cascade to risk bringing on a full on recession. Weak economy means the government gets less taxes, and thus can't afford to provide social support (food stamps and the like) which leave many poor individuals hungry, sick, or otherwise suffering from lack of government support. The most obvious sociopath effect of destroying a company is that it would force the company to let go employees it can no longer afford to pay, leaving them broke and without jobs. Thus his vengeance for being fired causes many thousands (at least) to also be fired. So being fired is so horrible it requires extreme measures of revenge if done to me, and yet it's perfectly okay to cause it an magnitudes larger scale to others just for my petty revenge. That sort of hypocritical self-centered sort of action sociopaths are known for. Taking down a company due to being fired is the most extreme of disproportionate retribution, in fact it's worse then that since it mostly hurts innocent third parties instead of those responsible for your being fired.

You will need your character to either be unbelievably naive to not realize the repercussions of his actions (at which point it's hard to believe he is competent enough to come up with and successfully pull them off), or a complete sociopath. Plus, only a sociopaths obsession would cause someone to forsake their own livelihood (selling all their possessions and going broke to fund their revenge) just to harm others. It takes a certain type of evil to be willing to destroy yourself just to harm another.

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Stock markets are psychology and self-fulfilling prophecies.

When the majority of the market thinks a certain stock will go down, they will start selling and it will go down. So all Joe Average has to do is convince some people who hold a lot of stocks that a market crash is imminent. When he is able to do that, it will happen.

There are already a lot of people who do the opposite. A common (illegal) scheme to make some money on the stock market is called "Pump and Dump". 1. Buy a very cheap stock, 2. convince some people through an information campaign that it will raise, 3. wait until they buy it, 4. see the price go up, 5. sell your stock. There is no reason why this wouldn't work in the other direction.

However, Joe Average needs to convince a lot of people whose job is to know the stock market in and out. They know their stuff very well and are well aware of people who try to manipulate stocks through spreading misinformation. It might be hard to convince them to listen to someone they never heard of. But remember: It's not important that they believe Joe is right with whatever he says, they just need to believe that others think Joe is right and might start selling their stock first.

Provoking another Flash Crash like Samuel described in his answer might be a possible threat. But Joe doesn't actually need to be able to do this. He just needs to bluff convincingly that he (or someone else) will do it... or at least so convincingly that people who don't believe his bluff might believe that he is convincing enough to bluff others.

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I think since he doesn't mind losing all his possessions, the solution is probably easy: He just invests all his money into put options way below the stock value (if he cannot do that himself, he just has to find someone who does it for him; for enough pay I guess that shouldn't be a problem).

Now a sudden high demand for low put options will certainly raise suspicions that the value of the company might indeed fall. Especially when they learn that a former employee does it, they will likely suspect that he knows something about the company and tries to do an insider. After all, why would someone buy lots of those options if he didn't expect to make a profit from them? And those options clearly can only make a profit if the share value tanks!

Now if sufficiently many investors get sufficiently insecure about the company's future value, they will probably start selling stock. Likely not yet enough to significantly change the stock value, but the increased sales will be noted by other market players. Now they have two signs of future value loss: The massive option buying, and the increased sales. So some more investors will start to sell. This generated a positive feedback loop, which ultimately might cause the company stock to dump.

Of course there is no guarantee hat this will work (it very much depends on the trust investors have in this company). If it doesn't work, the former employee will have lost all his possessions and not have achieved his goals. But if it worked, he gets his revenge, and given that he's willing to lose all his possessions in the process, he probably also won't mind too much that he'll probably end up in prison for market manipulation.

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