Damascus gay girl blogger turns out to be man

Gripping stories from the heart of the current Syrian uprising, followed by media organisations all over the world, have turned out to be a fake. So who do we trust now?

After a weekend of claim and furious counter-claim, it can now be confirmed. The blog titled 'A Gay Girl in Damascus' is a hoax.

The millions who have followed the writings of the 35-year-old Arab lesbian champion of the Syrian liberation movement, have actually been reading the words of Tom MacMaster – a 40-year-old, bearded, American, Middle East activist studying for a masters degree at Edinburgh University.

Many are convulsed with fury over their 'betrayal'. MacMaster is on the receiving end of a torrent of internet abuse and is being investigated by the University authorities. He has retreated to Turkey with his wife to keep out of harm's way.

When 'Amina' started writing the blog in February, it all seemed so exciting. Here was a genuine, fresh voice writing undercover from inside a dangerous and oppressive regime.

The first words of the blog were full of promise: 'Almost every time I speak or write to other LGBT people outside the Middle East, they always seem to wonder what it's like to be a lesbian here in Damascus. Well, I always find myself answering, it's not as easy as I'd like it to be but it's probably easier than you might think.'

And over the following months 'she' did not disappoint. There were poems, touching reflections on faith and freedom, and thrilling stories of escapes from the vicious Syrian secret police.

It felt as if we were getting a remarkable human story. The public – and the media – lapped it up. The Day lapped it up. We published two stories (on May 9th and June 9th) about the Syrian uprising, which were partly based on this apparently reliable source.

Guilt and lies

Now the real author Tom MacMaster, rootled out after investigations by a US radio network, has admitted his guilt. Yesterday he published a confession on the Gay Girl blog. 'I want to apologise to anyone I may have hurt or harmed in any way…I am really truly sorry and I feel awful about this…I betrayed the trust of a great many people…and played with the emotions of others unfairly.'

And the question many are asking is: who do we trust? The same technology that means words can be fiction, photos doctored and identities invented also gives us access across unimaginable distances to millions of other lives.

Are we modern humans closer to the truth as a result? Or are we caught in a web of lies?

You Decide

  1. How do you decide if something you are being told is true?
  2. Take a real event like the First World War. Which do you think would paint the most truthful picture of what is was like: official military reports from the front line, or a work of fiction like the famous novel (later, film)All Quiet On The Western Front?

Activities

  1. Write two short stories about yourself – one true and one invented. Try to make the invented story sound truer than the real story. Ask someone else to pick which is which.
  2. Invent a diary entry from a teenager caught in a war zone. See how 'real' you can make it sound.

Some People Say...

“Facts can be misleading and fiction can be true.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Journalists are always falling for hoaxes aren't they?
Actually the respected media organisations such asThe Financial Times, the BBC, The Guardian, The Economist and The New York Times are very careful to check stories as much as they can. They have a pretty good record.
Yes, but still there have been some pretty famous hoaxes that they all fell for.
True. Everyone was fooled 40 years ago by a fake autobiography of the American tycoon Howard Hughes, and 30 years ago by fake Hitler diaries. More recently a young reporter, Jayson Blair, had an illustrious period as a reporter forThe New York Times during which he made up interviews with people who did not exist. In 1981, a newspaper reporter called Janet Cooke won the top prize in American journalism for an interview with an eight-year-old heroin addict – who turned out to be a total fabrication.

Word Watch

Convulsed
literally means 'violently shaking' and is often used to convey massive rage or anger.
Rootled out
'rootle' means dig and originally was a word used to describe the way pigs dig stuff out of the earth with their noses. Here we mean that Tom MacMaster was dug out of hiding by determined investigators.

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