The meme was created and had spread as the reaction image, accompanying the jokes about questionable financial decisions that indicate a forthcoming monetary failure.
The first instance of the original format, stonks, was posted in 2017, on the Facebook site called Special Meme Fresh.
The image gained great popularity and started to be used as a meme format.
After gaining serious traction in meme communities, the format eventually was made into different derivatives that could be applied in various contexts.
Not stonks was one of these differentiated forms of the meme.
It first appeared in 2019, possibly on Reddit.
The not stonks meme spread alongside with the other variants of the stonks template, from 2019, and was gathering the most interest online during early 2020.
It has been featured on many sites like Reddit, 4chan or Imgur, and was given a definition on Urban Dictionary as well.