The somewhat unexpected news that the young lesbian blogger from Syria is, in fact, a bearded American academic living in Edinburgh, will have provided some amusement to the cynics amongst us. And yet, it is a demonstration of the risks that the internet presents. After all, once the media started to report 'her' dilemma as fact, the story took on a life of its own.
It is all too easy to create a credible story and portray it as real life, especially when it plays to an agenda that people want to believe in. In this case, a repressive regime torturing and killing its citizens, in a country where LGBT rights are limited/non-existent, and where information is heavily restricted, provides a background for a really good tale.
The irony, of course, is that somewhere out there, there is almost certainly a young lesbian Syrian, whose experiences would make great, dramatic reportage. She probably doesn't have internet access though and, even if she did, she probably wouldn't be believed now. Indeed, there has already been a backlash from genuine LGBT activists in the Middle East, condemning Tom MacMaster (the person behind the Amina persona) for his actions.
But why would he do such a thing? His claim to have been raising issues that he cared about may be entirely genuine, but the resulting damage to the credibility of all bloggers purporting to be reporting actual events in Syria only helps one party - the Syrian regime. Because, let's be honest, anyone who reads tales of violence, torture and oppression coming out of Deraa or Jisr Al-Shagourh is going to be thinking, "Is this real?". As far as the Syrian government is concerned, job done.
Which leads you to another, darker possibility, that Mr McMaster is in the pay of the Syrian regime. Naturally, I don't believe that he is, but when you've gone to so much trouble to create a fake persona, you might understand why some might wonder.
The whole story should act as a reminder to us all though. If you really want to 'succeed' as a blogger of record, as opposed to just expressing an opinion, you need to apply verifiable facts, a task made more difficult by the sheer mass of information out there. And, sometimes, the 'facts' out there have been propagated by people whose agenda might not be entirely open or honest...
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