JPMorgan's Twitter PR project unleashes public outrage

Thousands respond, accusing banks of criminal actions and prompting JPMorgan to cancel its #AskJPM event

People pass a sign for JPMorgan Chase & Co. at its headquarters in New York on Oct. 2, 2012.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

JPMorgan Chase & Co. has dealt with scandal after scandal in recent months – from accusations of manipulating electricity prices in Texas, to a $920 million settlement over the “London Whale,”  to its tentative record $13 billion settlement with the U.S. Justice Department over mortgage policies – but the giant bank was apparently unprepared for the storm of anger it unleashed with plans for a public relations project using Twitter.

A recent tweet from the corporation’s sparsely-followed account invited Twitter users to take part in a question-and-answer session  with Vice Chairman James B. Lee on Thursday. Twitter users responded with a deluge of sarcastic remarks about the bank’s recent stumbles, and with demands that it answer for its alleged mistakes. The backlash prompted JPMorgan to cancel its “#AskJPM” Twitter event.

“Tomorrow’s Q&A is cancelled,” the company’s Twitter feed read. “Bad idea. Back to the drawing board.”

The debacle provided a glimpse of the animosity that many feel toward big banks over the 2008 financial crisis, which was largely triggered by lenders’ dealings with mortgage-backed securities.

 “It was nice to finally have an outlet where I could say, “timeout, you don’t really understand what you did,” said Allyson Greazel, who manages public relations for an architecture and consulting firm in Portland, Ore. “As a society we needed a place to say, “You guys are ridiculous.’”

Greazel tweeted: “Do you have any self awareness?” under the #AskJPM hashtag.

Her tweet was one of the more reserved ones.

Commenter used epithets ranging from “scumbags” to “criminals.” Others used the hashtag to ask biting rhetorical questions.

“What section of the poor & disenfranchised have you yet to exploit for profit, & how are you working to address that?” tweeted Alexis Goldstein, communications director for The Other 98%, a nonprofit organization advocating for alternative economic policies.

Goldstein said she used a sarcastic tone because that is the native language of a platform like Twitter. But she hopes the public relations debacle will send a signal to banks to take public criticism seriously.

“I saw it as an opportunity to point out their recidivism and that they’re a bully and getting away with a lot of crime,” she said. “I think it’s important that these institutions understand the social costs of their actions.”

JPMorgan could face criminal prosecution after its multibillion-dollar settlement with the Justice Department over its mortgage dealings. And when its Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon testified in front of Congress last year, some critics said lawmakers appeared uncritical in their questioning.

For many members of the public, the #AskJPM event seemed like a chance to make up for what they consider a lack of official accountability.

“There really aren’t a lot of avenues for regular people to air their grievances with a Wall Street megabank,” said David Dayen, who writes about economics and political issues for Salon and other publications.

Dayen on Wednesday tweeted several angry messages, including: “If you were a shameless financial predator profiting off of the misery of your customers, what kind of predator would you be? #AskJPM.”

He said that he doesn’t think his or anyone else’s tweets accomplished much – but that getting to gang up on a big bank was nonetheless cathartic.

“I don’t think the board is going to fire Jamie Dimon for an aborted Twitter session,” Dayen said. “Even so, it’s nice that the people on Wall Street have to listen to the people on Main Street every so often. That’s gratifying.”

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