Monday, June 13, 2011

Neither Serious nor Syrian

Tom MacMaster, owner of
 "Gay Girl in Damascus" Source: The Guardian
By Robert Valencia

Last weekend, another media hoax was yet again revealed. We’re talking about “Gay Girl in Damascus,” a compilation of stories from Amina Abdullah Arraf, a supposedly Syrian-American lesbian who found inspiration in the Egyptian and Tunisian revolts. Most of her (his?) increasing popularity was due to her coming-out in a country where conservative laws are the norm. 

Nonetheless, the blog did not belong to the Damascus-based lady in question; instead, the host is Tom MacMaster, an American grad student living in Scotland, according to NPR

Other bloggers grew suspicious of the blog’s content in light of a statement from another fictional character called Rania O. Ismail, a cousin of Amira who announced her “disappearance.” Concerned about her whereabouts, a group of followers created a group called “Free Amina” with more than 13,000 “Likes.”

 A fake campaign to release the nonexistent Syrian-American lesbian .
Source: The Atlantic

After seeing a rising readership and burgeoning media attention worldwide, coupled with the Syrian revolts, MacMaster decided to come out of the shadows and stated that he did not expect to see such a level of attention, though “the facts are true.” He said he did not “believe to have hurt anyone.”

With regard to the latter, many LGBT activists think otherwise and, truth to be told, bloggers and other media might also question his apology. In the face of this hoax, it came to mind a quote from Margarita García Robayo, founder of the defunct blog “Sudaquia,” who once said that the blogosphere is like the wall of a bathroom in internet, “where everybody can take a pen and write whatever they want.” Sadly, these words ring true in the aftermath of MacMaster’s deception.

So here’s yet another example of how to achieve fame at the expense of grief—in this case, the perilous situation in Syria--, while, on the other hand, bloggers and true journalists risk their lives for the sake of professional reporting, just like the heartbreaking case of Tim Hetherington in Libya. As NPR’s Andy Carvin from NPR, assiduous follower of Amira, said of this blog “One of the cruelest jokes I have ever witnessed.”

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