|A poster that appeared on a "Free Amina" facebook page.|
Today, the person behind the popular confessional blog site "Gay Girl in Damascus" revealed their true identity. Blogger Amina Abdallah, known to devout readers from across the globe as a Syrian American lesbian with a talent for capturing everything from the excitement of the Arab Spring to sharing intimate, sensual poetry, was revealed to be...a man. Not only that, "Amina" is in fact a 40 year-old white American man currently studying in the UK by the name of Tom MacMaster.
The contempt felt by those who once followed him, or worse, those who only discovered him today through this new found notoriety (including this blogger, real name Amity Bacon), seems to have reached a fever pitch. And the reasons are fairly plain to see, as any white male blogger can attest.
The idea of a westerner born of white male privilege impersonating a queer Arab woman in order to have his voice heard is surely a painful irony. And I can only imagine that actual, real life members of the LGBT community in Arab nations that have struggled to get their messages out to the international community are more than a bit upset that they haven't been heard over all the media hype MacMaster has been able to drum up through his dalliance in fiction writing.
"Abdallah" wasn't your typical unknown blogging hobbyist. After garnering enough attention in her responses to the uprisings she supposedly witnessed firsthand, she was commissioned to contribute to various news sites. She even had a facebook account, filled with pictures MacMaster had stolen from another facebook user, as well as fan pages on the social networking site (yes, pages plural). And when MacMaster was bored with his little fiction project, he conveniently implied in his posts that Amina Abdallah had gone missing and was abducted by security services, which of course only led to more support, and, one can imagine, more fan pages. The State Department was reportedly opening up an investigation as well.
I understand the anger surrounding this. Especially if you see this video of MacMaster explaining himself and how he was driven by vanity to create this character. At this point he is probably envisioning future book deals, talk show appearances, and a life of glamorous celebrityhood from here on out.
But before we're so quick to dismiss this as a cheap hoax devoid of any lessons to be learned, here's a question to consider: where do you get your news? And what are the sources for that news?
In America, the number of US-based foreign correspondents has only dwindled as our military reach has skyrocketed. Conversely, in countries where first amendment rights are not protected, particularly in the Middle East, informal means of communication such as blogging, twitter, and other social networks have become a major source of information for the global community. In these types of circumstances, is it a complete surprise that myths and lies can be perpetuated like never before?
There are no easy answers to fix this media environment, but if there is a cautionary tale here it's this: however enticing a wide open internet may be, blogs and social media will never replace a functioning media--that is, a media comprised of trained journalists, fact checkers, and editors that are neither beholden to government nor corporate institutions. Is such a thing possible? Probably not, but it is something to strive for.