Writing from Istanbul, Turkey, the American grad student Tom MacMaster, currently studying at the University of Edinburgh, confessed to being the “sole author” of the blog “A Gay Girl in Damascus.” MacMaster began the blog in February and featured entries of the fictional life led by Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari, a young lesbian blogger half-Syrian, half-American who had only recently relocated to Damascus. However, Amina Araf sprouted entirely from MacMaster’s head and his readers were unaware.
That’s why whirlwind media coverage ensued last week when a posting, supposedly written by Amina’s cousin, delivered the news that Amina had been taken at gunpoint by men of the Baath Party militia to an unknown location. Social media was used extensively to get the word out about Amina’s abduction and to campaign for her liberation. The poster at the right was one of the images used by activists to petition for Amina’s cause. It’s believed that even the U.S. State Department opened an investigation into Amina’s disappearance.
He himself a committed activist for Middle Eastern causes, MacMaster issued a more than somewhat half-hearted apology for deceiving the world’s media outlets and the blog’s readership. The apology was posted on the “Gay Girl” blog which was, perhaps begrudgingly, re-titled “A Hoax.” Snippet one: “While the narrative voıce may have been fictional, the facts on thıs blog are true and not mısleading as to the situation on the ground.” Snippet two: This experience has sadly only confirmed my feelings regarding the often superficial coverage of the Middle East and the pervasiveness of new forms of liberal Orientalism.”
Although the cause was a false one, this episode shows the effectiveness with which social media can be used to disperse information quickly and organize masses of people around it.