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ODU Student's Facebook Campaign Causes Bank to Reverse Fee Policy

It was only 30 cents. But that wasn't the point.

Old Dominion University student Heather Lynn was annoyed that her bank, Wachovia, had charged her that nominal international service fee when she donated money to Haitian earthquake relief.

So she created a Facebook page called Wachovia = Fail to chronicle her campaign to get her 30 cents back.

A rollicking two weeks, which culminated with a phone call from a bank vice-president, has taught Lynn a lot about student activism in 2010. Mainly this: "It was a lot of work," Lynn says.

"It's difficult for a lot of people to get the exposure that my page got. I've had a couple of people contact me and ask to help with their Facebook page. I'll say I'll join it, but it's not my fight. Those couple of weeks it kind of took over my life. I was neglecting school."

Lynn, an art studio major at ODU from Virginia Beach's Kellam High, was inspired to make a donation to Yele Haiti when she saw the images of devastation on television. When she saw the now-famous 30-cent charge on her bank statement, she followed up with Wachovia.

"I asked the woman on the phone, and she said it was for the donation to Yele Haiti," says Lynn, 22. "I know that other credit card companies at the time had been waiving the international service fees, so I asked her why Wachovia isn't, because Visa isn't charging them. They said they weren't waiving any fees at that time and weren't planning on it and didn't seem sympathetic at all.

"It kind of really upset me. I was really annoyed. It was only 30 cents but they're making a profit out of Haiti. It was really crappy."

Extremely unsatisfied with that answer, Lynn created the Facebook page, and sent it to all of her friends, asking them to become "fans."

Then she took a more activist step - sending it to media outlets, finally getting her story told by the online Huffington Post.

"And then it blew up, and I had like 1,000 friends overnight," Lynn says.

By Tuesday evening, Wachovia had posted a response to the Facebook page, promising to refund all the fees they had collected from donations, and waive the fees for Haiti relief until June.

Somewhat satisfied with Wachovia's response - "I still think it was kind of lame," she says - Lynn took down the Wachovia = Fail page.

The entire episode took a great effort on her part, but showed Lynn the power of social media as a tool for activism by otherwise busy students.

"I just thought the whole page - negative or positive - was an open environment for people to talk about it," she says.

"I figured it's a democracy, it's freedom of speech. I might not agree with what they said, but it's great that they said it."

One of the best things about the experience, Lynn says, is receiving a 30-cent check from Wachovia, which she intends to frame. An executive from the bank called her to get her address, "and she said she was proud of me. She said there's no way her 20-year-old would do something like this. It made me feel really good."

This article was posted on: March 1, 2010

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