Of the many things this “Arab Spring” has the potential to produce, this may be pretty low on the scale, but it is a lesson in the literary license that the internet can bring.
Simply, the story is this; an American blogger in Scotland posed as a lesbian in Syria to make his point about gay rights in the middle-east.
Tom MacMaster, who is a 40 year-old American male studying in Edinburgh, posed as Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari, a gay gal in Damascus. Okay, I guess if that’s all that happened here, this would be the beginning and the end of this deception. People harmlessly impersonate people all the time on the internet and on “Saturday Night Live” — but Tom concocted this scheme where Amina, “A Gay Girl in Damascus,” was kidnapped by Syrian authorities because of her lifestyle and real people risked their lives trying to save the girl that never existed.
He even sent out this picture of her. This is actually a picture of a woman from London, but the world now knows her as a gay girl in Damascus. A French Canadian woman exchanged 1,000 e-mails with “Amina” and believed they had a romantic relationship.
Stories were done on the outrage that Syrian authorities would do this to a young girl who was just living as she wanted to live. MacMaster’s fraud perpetuated an international outrage of stories demanding justice for the Amini and her cause was taken up by journalists in every corner of the planet. An aggressive internet campaign was started and other media outlets quickly followed, all along believing the premise that the story was true, so they didn’t bother fact-checking.
MacMaster has few regrets. Perhaps that he got caught (at first he denied he was “Amina”) is his biggest regret. In fact, he said:
“While the narrative voice may have been fictional, the facts on this blog are true and not misleading as to the situation on the ground. I do not believe that I have harmed anyone — I feel that I have created an important voice for issues that I feel strongly about.”
Let’s translate this: Tom says, facts be damned, because I believe what I believe, I made a story up out of thin air and I don’t care. Belief in the agenda is more important than the actual facts. Gotcha there, Tom.
The activist old media is not pleased because they were duped by MacMaster so they have lashed out at him. Perhaps initially they loved the narrative so much that they just accepted it. It fit their template as well. He has offered an apology of sorts, but still believes he had to tell this (faux) story. He fed this hoax for more than five years. It took a long, long time to get to the bottom of this because the media easily accepted the template. They do this all the time with much bigger stories than this.
Another point that needs to be made: there are so many real stories of this sort of prejudice in existence that they don’t require fabrication and every fake one serves to discredit the real ones.