Bank of America executives, investors, and opponents alike reacted with surprise to yesterday’s news—posted for two hours on Dow Jones Newswire and elsewhere—that the mammoth financial institution, realizing it was heading for a taxpayer bailout, was asking Americans to start thinking about what they’ll do with the bank once they own it, and to start advertising that vision too.
The news, of course, was a hoax.
The fake YourBofA.com website was quickly, but temporarily, blacklisted by Google as a potential “phishing scam,” despite the site containing no forms, spyware, or other characteristics of a site engaging in phishing. Firefox and Google Chrome users who tried to load YourBofA.com were warned that the site may be “dangerous,” while some individuals with Gmail accounts reported that emails containing the URL were bounced back or not delivered. An investigation by Raw Story concluded that “It’s likely that Bank of America reported the site to Google as a phishing scam.” Shortly after the article’s publication—and with the help of thousands of volunteers complaining to Google—the website was taken off the blacklist.
Today’s reports of slumping profits make the fake site all the more timely. “This site is a forum for people to imagine what they could do with this bank,” said Jane O’Heely of the Yes Lab, one of the site’s creators. “The ideas we’ve gotten already show we all know as much as bankers about how a bank ought to be run—and actually, a good deal more.”
“A bank doesn’t have to be something that charges you fees, invests your money in things you abhor, destroys poor communities with predatory lending, and then threatens to take down the global economy if you don’t agree to bail it out,” said Logan Price, who helped create BreakUpBofA.com. “Thinking of alternatives to this nightmare is not rocket science.”
The hoax was perpetrated by means of a fake press release; it was followed two hours later with a fake angry retort, so that no journalist would be fooled for very long. “We wanted to get people thinking about how they’d run banking differently, not to really fool anyone,” noted O’Heely. “The whole fake release thing was just a way to publicize it and get people posting ideas and ads.”
“Any response by Bank of America would just help spread the word, and they seem to know that,” added O’Heely. When Bank of America got Google to blacklist the website as “phishing” (which it was not), the Yes Lab mobilized 4000 volunteers to complain, which quickly worked to de-list the site and give this press release a small extra hook.
The website’s centerpiece is an open call to American taxpayers to begin considering what they will do after a bailout, when they’ll have a chance to become the company’s majority owners. The “bank” also asks the public to advertise their visions with a tool for generating web banners—images that could give Bank of America a very real “google problem” not unlike Chevron’s. The site also includes a letter from CEO Brian Moynihan that admits to the bank’s many failings—short-sighted investment decisions and the massive accumulation of le gal liabilities, causing plummeting share prices and inexorably pushing the company towards a public bailout.
The YourBofA.com website was a collaboration between the Yes Lab, Rainforest Action Network, and New Bottom Line. A number of folks within Occupy Wall Street’s Alternative Banking working group also helped with the site. Like other Yes Lab websites, this one is hosted by May First / People Link.
The website comes at a time of rampant distrust of big banks. Even top Federal Government regulators have recently called for the end of “too big to fail.” As Harvey Rosenblum, the head of the Dallas Fed’s research department, recently wrote: “Many of the biggest banks have sputtered, their balance sheets still clogged with toxic assets accumulated in the boom years… creating a residue of distrust for the government, the banking system, the Fed and capitalism itself.”
“Most Americans, and even some regulators, see what’s wrong with the state of our banking system,” said Price. “We have a real opportunity to safely and proactively push this company towards managed bankruptcy and create smaller, more responsive financial institutions that help American communities rather than harm them.”