'Gay Girl in Damascus' blogger exposed as U.S. man
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Monday, June 13, 2011 5:43PM EDT
The 40-year-old American man who has now admitted to portraying a lesbian blogger in Syria doesn't see the harm in the months-long deception.
Tom MacMaster, who is a master's student at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, has admitted that he is the "sole author of all posts."
The admission posted to the blog on Sunday exposed as fake the story of Amina Arraf, the purportedly American-Syrian lesbian activist living and writing about her life and opinions in the Syrian capital.
Under the banner "a Gay Girl in Damascus," the closely followed blog has been chronicling life in the restive nation since February.
Likely due to its unique perspective, the site and its author had attracted a worldwide audience who read posts not only describing everyday life in the city, but also unabashed opinions of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the country's pro-reform movement and the regime's violent crackdown.
The site's popularity really took hold with the publication of a post entitled, "My Father, The Hero" in which the author describes her dad sparing her from arrest by Syrian security forces.
In the following days, news organizations around the world published interviews with Arraf, all of which had been conducted via email.
But the alarm bells didn't ring until last week, when an entry on the site purportedly written by Arraf's cousin recounted her arrest by armed men believed to have been linked to al-Assad's Baath party.
The incident was widely reported by news organizations worldwide and even sparked a Facebook campaign that attracted more than 14,000 followers.
But doubts began to emerge after U.S. National Public Radio reporter Andy Carvin began asking the Twitter-verse whether anyone had ever actually met Arraf in person.
And the story really began to unravel after London, England resident Jelena Lecic spotted a purported photo of the blogger in The Guardian newspaper and realized the face was actually her's.
Digital sleuthing subsequently revealed that a mailing address that Arraf provided in an online forum was actually owned by MacMaster; that emails attributed to Arraf had actually come from computers the University of Edinburgh; and that a photo posted on the blog had been previously posted online by his wife, St. Andrews University PhD candidate in the field of Syrian economic development, Britta Froelicher.
On Sunday, MacMaster laid the speculation to rest in a post to the blog simply titled "Apology to readers."
Explaining that he "never expected this level of attention," MacMaster confessed to the deception and defended himself for it.
"While the narrative voýce may have been fictional, the facts on thýs blog are true and not mýsleading as to the situation on the ground," he wrote.
"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."
With files from The Associated Press