Tom MacMaster: Master of Misinformation

So, it turns out the “Gay Girl in Damascus” blog, made out to be posts by Amina Arraf of Syria, is a fake. Not just a fake, but an elaborate fake, with fake correspondences with AP reporters, fake pictures that actually turned out to be of some woman in Croatia, and a fake kidnapping with a fake relative claiming that the lesbian blogger had been taken. All allegedly perpetrated by a 40-year-old man from Georgia claiming to be in Istanbul named Tom MacMaster. So, his first explanation for the hoax and apology?

I never expected this level of attention. 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. 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.

Which was a patently self-serving apology missing the point. How would a hoax like this not completely backfire on the plight of the people he claims he was attempting to help? Of course it would cause a backlash, which prompted a second, lengthier apology that concluded a bit stronger in the “taking responsibility” department.

I didn’t mean to harm anyone who is upset. I didn’t mean to hurt the causes which I myself believe in. I didn’t mean to malign anyone. My intentions were good; I got carried away. I owe apologies to those I hurt and will do all in my power to make things right. I only wanted to set forth real information through the use of artfully crafted fiction. I was too successful and I was too caught up in what I was doing. I ignored the consequences of my action.

Kudos for finally getting it. However, what does it matter? The damage has been done to the LGBT movement in the Middle East he was thought he was bolstering, and while perhaps not irreparable, an apology doesn’t just fix it. MacMaster essentially used his fiction to strip away a great deal of credibility from folks who may only have blogs and social networking of transmitting the authenticity of their experiences. While the media should always practice scrutiny, the voices of these individuals already in a precarious situation should not have to deal with an extra layer of suspicion all because some guy got ‘carried away’ with his fiction.

In other words, MacMaster’s apology, while required, is still not enough. He may wish to help correct the issue:

I want to turn the focus away from me and urge everyone to concentrate on the real issues, the real heroes, the real people struggling to bring freedom to the Arab world. I have only distracted from real people and real problems. Those continue; please focus on them.

But, frankly, if he hurt the credibility of those people he wished to prop up and defend, he absolutely destroyed his own. After this apology, the best possible thing he can do is go silent for a time. As for the media, both mainstream and social, this incident really illustrates why a healthy skepticism and a general slowdown in breaking stories is of paramount importance.

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