Homeowner activists will be crushed under the sheer weight of their gigantic egos; 11 million blogs, websites, and Facebook pages; intellectual dishonesty; Internet turf wars; and a stranglehold on information -- leaving homeowners sifting through debris for decades.
Since 2009, which by most people's naive assessment is when the housing crisis and foreclosure fiasco began, the Internet has become littered with self-proclaimed mortgage experts and homeowner activists doing little more than drawing attention to themselves and pointing to their manufactured biographies and made up resumes. A vast majority of these bloggers do little to help homeowners and, in many cases, are doing irreparable harm with histrionics, inane screeching, disparate calls to action, and ignorant advice for struggling and desperate homeowners.
Every once in a while someone will pop up in the news or on a blog to take personal credit for having exposed "robo-signing" or for having coined the term "mortgage servicing fraud." The media has been all too accommodating and eager to present these clowns as "citizen heroes" without a shred of research into their backgrounds, expertise, or credibility. As a result, these re-branded former traders, mortgage brokers, and, in some cases, convicted felons are allowed to pass themselves off as concerned citizens. In actuality, much of the mortgage mess was being discussed long before what many consider ground zero - as early as 2005 in some cases. (See: ML-Implode, MSFraud, and GetDShirtz.)
In an era of technology that promotes the sharing of information at lightning speed, the lack of unity and collaboration among bloggers is staggering and an affront to logic. Informing, educating, and helping homeowners has taken a back seat to turf wars over Internet traffic and self-adulation. Many of these site owners and bloggers seem less concerned with providing actual relief to homeowners than they are with boosting their ratings and agenda. One has to wonder if their newly found purpose in life could be jeopardized should an actual solution become miraculously available.
"It is frustrating and difficult to watch as the people who have risen to the forefront of this movement battle each other for turf in the marketplace of ideas," says Vermont Trotter of protectamericasdream.com. "All this does is sow confusion into the network, leaving the homeowner confused and his efforts dispersed and unfocused. 'Collaborate or Die' isn't just a slogan; it is the reality we are facing. The other side collaborates; we know that. It's time we did too."
In the meantime, a large majority of bloggers litter their sites with irrelevant articles and wild speculative theories, and plaster public documents with their personal watermark as if to expect a finder's fee. Some promise do-it-yourself solutions from someone who may have attended a weekend seminar and published a PDF. Millions more simply repost random crap, violate copyright laws, and slap ads in every corner of their site' hoping to get rich one nickel at a time.
"Many of these activists think that because they went to a 5-hour foreclosure seminar, that somehow makes them an attorney or mortgage expert who is qualified to give legal advice," says Steve Dibert, of MFI-Miami, "This is like saying that anyone who watched Speed Racer cartoons in 1970s would qualify for pole position at the Indianapolis 500. Not only do activists promote incorrect and discredited information, but it could be considered unlicensed practice of law."
The worst offenders are the owners and authors of well-trafficked sites whose egos have grown with the number of readers. They moderate comments and forum posts in the same way Fox News edits its commentators.
While comments and forums can go off the rails and devolve into inane and irrelevant discussions without moderation, for the most part they add value to the discussion and the flow of information. Readers and bonified experts may question a theory, correct factual inaccuracies, challenge the author's motivation, or even add to the author's article by providing additional insight and information. Unfortunately, it's usually the site owner moderating the comments and posts who prefers praise for their prose over intelligent discussion and, as a result, many of these comments, particularly ones that may actually add to the value of the article, don't see the light of day. It's as if the author's feelings were hurt for not having come up with the idea himself. In the end, the reader is left with a soapbox speech of half-truths and misleading information followed by applause and comments from adoring fans who are no less ignorant than the author.
Martin Andelman of Mandelman Matters and a Home Preservation Network contributor is one of the more consistent and outspoken bloggers on this issue. He and I share a common sentiment with several others: get this done and put it behind us. Neither of us planned on getting attention this way. Being insulted and lambasted by other activists supposedly on the same side is not what you shoot for when you're making a five year plan.
"I never delete comments unless they're racially motivated or hateful," Andelman says., "I have readers on my site that are a lot smarter than me and when I write something it's to get people talking. I want people to think about what I wrote and point out something I missed. I don't do this to be 'right'."
Last year Van Jones was quoted as saying, "You move from anger to answers. You move from pointing out the problem to pointing out the solutions." An inspiring sentiment, but with no follow-through is meaningless. I've spoken to several activists and well established bloggers over the past year who have reached out to Jones (myself included) to no avail -- it seems everyone really does want to do this on their own -- or at the very least taken direction from President Obama on the lack of follow through when it comes to this issue.
In Iceland, people hurled rocks at Parliament and were rewarded with a nationwide reduction in mortgage principal. In Spain, hookers collectively refused to service bankers until they loosened lending standards. The Greeks started their own barter system, bypassing the banks. In Cairo, tens of thousands of Egyptians gathered in one place at the same time to protest their outrage, making OWS look like a campus sit-in. In France, if you threaten to take away a federal holiday, people set fire to cars and hurl mailboxes through plate glass windows. In fact, International Monetary Fund Chief, Christine Lagarde had more to say about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac than any of our elected U.S. officials combined, but the best this country can come up with is eleven million blogs of re-posted crap?
This country has some very bright, motivated, innovative, and passionate people. If they started working together rather than hoping for the number one slot on American Idol, something might get done.
Without collaboration on all fronts this movement, like any movement, will collapse under its own weight. The divisiveness, infighting, and turf wars have made it easy for the ones who created this mess to run roughshod over the American people and the laws that were meant to protect them.
The "cause", as it were, is severely disjointed and incomprehensibly divided by many wanting the same thing -- relief for homeowners and justice for those who were harmed.
As Vermont Trotter, a colleague and contributor to HPN, says all too frequently, "Do what you do, but do it together."
Author's Note: This blog post was, in fact, a collaborative effort. As with many pieces I've written, I rely on others who know more than me for guidance, advice, and facts. Thanks go out to all of them who contributed to this piece in one way or another (and I'd especially like to thank the readers, who take the time to comment on this post -- many of whom help prove my point).
Follow Richard Zombeck on Twitter: www.twitter.com/zombeck