On being robbed and the quest for online justice

I stared at my bank balance in horror. My account was empty. Just seven days before my winter vacation thieves "skimmed" my account off a debit card transaction. They stole every last penny.

I called my bank immediately, who assured me that I was protected against fraud and that they'd replace the money within 48 hours. I went into my branch for a new card and also discovered I was just one of many whose accounts had been hit. So far so good. Yes, I felt anxious, violated and worried. But, my bank had also reassured me that everything was in hand and that money would be back soon.

Only it wasn't. Two days passed. Then three. Then five. Still my bank account was nothing but an empty, gaping hole, being driven into the overdraft by a "foreign transaction" charge. On day seven, less than 24 hours before I was scheduled to fly, I called my bank's fraud line again. An automated voice told me they were busy and to "call back later." The line disconnected.

So, armed with a large travel mug of coffee, I went into my local branch, explained the situation, and said I was happy to wait for assistance. To their credit, they tried. Branch staff made calls on my behalf until finally the message came back, "Tell her she's not getting her money in 24 hours, or 36 hours, or 72 hours… Tell her three or four weeks!"

It was now just 10 hours before I was supposed to head to the airport. I was so angry I cried. But some of my friends, including ChristianWeek columnist Thomas Froese, encouraged me not to give up, but to take my fight online.

So, I did. With the help of a good, media-savvy friend who first helped me craft my messages, (a second pair of eyes is always helpful, especially when emotions are running high), I took to both Facebook and Twitter—respectfully but firmly telling my story. My friends rallied. The bank's social media team took notice. After a polite Internet exchange with them, all the money suddenly reappeared in my account, mere hours after I'd taken to the virtual streets with my cause.

The incident was a sobering one. Has the power of Facebook and Twitter now become so strong that it's now more effective than face-to-face interaction? Do I really want to have the power to affect change at the push of a few keys—and the responsibility that comes with that?

I was reminded of Jesus' parable from Luke 18 about the widow who complains to a judge until he relents and gives her justice. Yes, Jesus Himself praised dogged determination and persistence, drawing a parallel to our faith that God answers prayers. But while the widow's cause—and mine—might have been just, what about all those bank customers who didn't have friends online advocating on their behalf?

I've written before in this space about the sacred responsibility to be honest and just storytellers. As new media continues to evolve to the point that I, at home in my pajamas, can make the bank change its mind—or start a damaging Internet rumour, or advocate on behalf of the needy—that responsibility becomes greater than ever.

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