The man at the center of a social media mishap apologized. But the damage he has done will unfortunately endure.
The man is Tom McMaster, a 40-year-old American who made up an Internet blogger named "Amina," who wrote moving and passionate dispatches under the title "A Gay Girl in Damascus." People followed "her;" people believed "her" reportage from Syria, where a brutal government crackdown against a three-month prodemocracy movement has already resulted in the deaths of some 1,300 civilians. And who wouldn’t be sympathetic to a half-American, half-Syrian lesbian living in such a dangerous and repressive state? Who wouldn’t be concerned when—as a "cousin" reported last week—"Amina" was taken away by government security agents?
Except that Amina isn’t real. Her persona and her story were entirely the creation of McMaster, who used a photo of a woman on a London Facebook page to represent Amina. On the blog, McMaster apologized—sort of. While acknowledging that the information was not true, McMaster rationalized his lies by saying they were necessary to draw attention to the terrible state of affairs in Syria:
While the narrative voice may have been fictional, all 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.
Yes, he did. By lying.
It’s not uncommon for bloggers to slam the so-called "mainstream media" for missing certain stories, or for overplaying or underplaying other stories. But those without journalistic training or even basic, commonsense ethics may find that the job of evil mainstream journalists is harder when you have to conduct actual interviews and check facts. McMaster’s use of a phony persona is not dissimilar to the composite of an eight-year-old drug-abuser Janet Cook wrote about in the Washington Post in 1980. Cooke was fired for her transgression. McMaster is still defending his.