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A 40-year-old US student based in Scotland has unmasked himself as the author of the “Gay Girl in Damascus” blogs, which sparked a security crackdown in Syria.
This is the latest in a series of attempts by Westerners to use social and online media to stake a place in the limelight for themselves in the Arab uprisings which have dominated headlines in 2011.
Tom MacMaster, an Edinburgh University masters student, admitted on Sunday that he was “Amina Abdullah”, who had described “herself” as a Syrian political blogger.
The Abdullah character rose to blogging fame with her reports on the pro-reform movement in Syria, posing as “an out Syrian lesbian’s thoughts on life, the universe and so on”.
MacMaster’s admission followed a suspicious blog post last week, in which someone claiming to be Abdullah’s cousin said that the blogger had been snatched off the street by three armed men and bundled into a car bearing a pro-government window sticker.
Following a widespread online campaign to free Abdullah, doubts began to emerge within the online community regarding the authenticity of the blog. Subsequent investigations by bloggers uncovered evidence that pointed towards MacMaster and his wife Britta Froelicher as the authors of the blog.
MacMaster insists that his actions and that of his wife, who is studying towards a doctorate in Syrian economic development, were undertaken with the best of intentions.
In his apology, MacMaster stated that, “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,” MacMaster added.
This is not the first time that a online voice, supposedly on the ground in the midst of a Middle Eastern battle for freedom, has turned out to be a well-intentioned Westerner in an entirely different part of the world. These are people be looking for a place in the spotlight of current events, if only for their fictional personae. Even those who use their real personas tend to portray themselves as social media evangelists, bringing light to Arab masses who previously cowered in the dark.
Other examples range from Twitter users around the world simply changing their location to Tehran in the midst of the 2009 election protests to claiming credit for helping young Arabs to empower themselves through social media.
Wikileaks impresario, Julian Assange, also brazenly tried to take credit for the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions in February.
However well intentioned MacMaster’s intentions might have been, the fact remains that he misled his followers and acted unethically. However well researched the content he wrote for Amina Abdullah may have been, he got people campaigning for someone who didn’t really exist. Time and effort spent on the fake Abdullah could have been spent campaigning for an actual Syrian cause or freedom fighter. That makes him no better than a Twitter user spreading rumours, which may have little basis in fact, about a demonstration on Libya from the comfort of their couch in London, or New York.
Photo Credit: henryjacksonsociety.org