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Reflecting on the Amina hoax - coverage, analysis and investigation

When we broke the story last Sunday of who was really behind the “Amina” the “Gay Girl in Damascus” blog, revealing it to be Tom MacMaster, an American graduate student living in Scotland, we knew it would get a lot of attention. But even we did not anticipate quite how broad the interest would be.

We include here a round up of some of the notable coverage and analysis, especially the brilliant reporting by Melissa Bell and Elizabeth Flock in The Washington Post whom we discovered during the course of our own investigation were already hot on MacMaster’s trail, as well expert insights of Liz Henry.

When we decided to pursue this story, we were driven by a concern that “Amina” and other sockpuppets – fake personas – had deeply infiltrated our social and solidarity networks. We were concerned that whoever was behind this fraud may have hostile intentions. The coverage and analysis looks at many other relevant issues, including the role of mainstream media in promoting the hoax in the first place; what it means to be in solidarity with people and movements when we have to rely on intermediaries to tell us about them; online trust and the ethics of blogging as a fictional character; and issues related to the subjectification of Arabs in terms of sexuality.

Another widely expressed concern was that all the attention directed at “Amina” would divert attention from real people punished and persecuted for their writing and activities online. Tal al-Mallohi is one such person, a 20-year old blogger sentenced to five years in prison in Syria last February. The Committee to Protect Journalists is an organization that monitors this and other cases.

During our investigation of “Amina,” we raised questions about the identity of one of our sources named “Paula Brooks.” When The Washington Post revealed on Monday that she was in fact a retired man living in Ohio, the LGBT community of activists and bloggers reflected on how this man misrepresented himself as a woman, gained trust, built relationships and harmed a community he claimed to support. We include these posts because these are the same issues of trust that Palestine and Arab solidarity communities also face in the wake of the Amina fraud.

Finally, we take this opportunity to recall that investigative reporting has always been one of the pursuits of The Electronic Intifada. It is a reminder that it does not always take enormous resources to cast light on important stories. It does take a willingness to ask questions that may not have occurred to others. We’ve also included links to some of The Electronic Intifada’s other investigate reports as well below.

Coverage of Amina hoax exposé

Analysis

“Paula Brooks” fallout

Investigative reporting by The Electronic Intifada

Comments

Kudos for being an essential part of the effort to uncover the hoax, Benjamin and Ali! And thx for this round up of the media and blog coverage, plus the commentary on the negative consequences for real bloggers who are in real danger, like Tal al-Mallohi. Great job!

As for the "Paula Brooks" angle of the story, LGR co-founder Julie Phineas blogged about a phone conversation she had with Graber after his forgery become public. Some fascinating insights in this, you may want to include it in your list:
http://juliephineas.com/?p=2599

This explains how "Paula" made the fake persona so plausible for many of the folks who worked for LGR. Using contacts at the Rachel Maddow show and the WH, he was able to provide internal infos that made it look as if he he worked there. I can only hope most fakers aren't that smart and accomplished at creating their false identities out of tidbits of informations. Well, at least those two related cases should make everybody aware about the problem and maybe this will help to expose fakers. Zero tolerance for those who selfishly want to exploit the public interest in bloggers who are really facing discrimination and danger!