Brendan O’Neill on how easily the hoaxer’s blog became “a go-to place for liberal hacks, bloggers and tweeters who wanted to know ‘the truth’ about life in Syria.”
The revelation that the Gay Girl in Damascus is actually a stubbly bloke in Edinburgh has sent shockwaves through the media. ‘How could he have done this?’, journalists are demanding of Tom MacMaster, the American self-confessed nerd based in Scotland who for six months pretended to be a dissident dyke in Syria. ‘Doesn’t he know the damage he has done to gay people in the Middle East and to the reputation of political blogging?’
These are the wrong questions. Because the most striking thing about this blogging hoax is not its potential impact over there, but what it reveals about culture, politics and journalism over here. The thing that ought to cause jaws to drop and eyebrows to rise is not Mr MacMaster’s deceitfulness — he isn’t the first mundane man to masquerade as something sexier on the world wide web — but rather the ease with which he planted himself in the cultural consciousness. It is the manipulability of the modern media, their wide-eyed openness to unchecked foreign stories that seem to confirm their prejudices, which should really be in the spotlight.
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The media’s current focus on the clever nature of the gay-girl hoax (‘it is an elaborate hoax’, says a track-covering Guardian), overlooks what is easily the most important dynamic in this story: not MacMaster’s alleged powers of persuasion, but the media’s susceptibility to delusion. However well-written or seemingly authentic MacMaster’s blog was — and as it happens, some Syrians have said it was unconvincing — the fact is that it was just a blog; just a self-started website with various bits of personal writing and nothing to suggest that any of it was accurate or authoritative. Those complaining about being duped, Scooby Doo-style, by the apparent master of disguise that is Tom MacMaster need to have a word with themselves: it was their openness to being duped, their embrace of the seemingly made-in-heaven ‘gay girl in Damascus’ narrative with its achingly right-on contrast between a morally sensitive LGBT gal and a male-dominated regime, which really blew this blog out of all proportion.