A few times in the past (follow the tags on this post to see those posts) I’ve linked to the A Gay Girl in Damascus blog, which claimed to be by Syrian-American lesbian Amina Abdallah living in Damascus. It attracted a lot of attention after a post claiming that Amina had been abducted, presumably by pro-Assad security forces. Over the few days after that post, there was a lot of speculation that Amina’s story might not be true (it certainly wasn’t completely true) and that it might even be a complete hoax. Turns out it was; the Gay Girl in Damascus is really a Straight Boy in Edinburgh, American Tom MacMaster, who eventually posted to the blog taking responsibility for the hoax and saying it was an attempt at fiction-writing that got out of hand. He said part of his motivation was to criticise and show up Western Orientalism; at least he was self-aware enough to recognize the bitter irony of a straight white Western man doing that by claiming to speak as an Arab lesbian.
There’s a lot more on Wikipedia and at the blog itself. I don’t know that I trust his contrition and claims that he didn’t know how seriously people were taking the blog, though. During the few days after the “disappearance” of Amina, people were claiming that their comments linking to evidence of Amina’s unreality were being systematically deleted, and if that’s true, it means that somebody with administrative control of the blog was actively trying to keep the hoax alive during that time. And now all, or at least many, of the comment threads have been entirely deleted.
Something that makes this story even creepier is that “Amina” got technical assistance setting up A Gay Girl in Damascus, and a lot of exposure, from Paula Brooks, the blogger behind LezGetReal. In the aftermath of the exposure of the hoax, in which a post on LezGetReal apologized for having been duped by Amina, “Paula Brooks” was exposed as another straight man pretending to be a lesbian, Bill Graber.
And of course real activists in Syria are abducted (and sometimes tortured and killed), but this sock puppet got lots more attention that real people, and (at least according to Egyptian Chronicles; I haven’t run across other sources) the Assad regime predictably used this hoax to try to undermine the credibility of real stories of government repression.