LezAin’tReal (Continued)

Jim Burroway

June 14th, 2011

Karen Ocamb counts five very specific ways in which the “Amina” blogger hoax has put real people in real danger — all because of Tom MacMaster’s narcissistic exercise in creative writing. When one considers that people really are being rounded up by Syrian authorities and are disappearing off the street, MacMaster’s self-indulgence means that Syria’s state media gets to label those reports as fiction and they have MacMaster’s posts as “proof.” Meanwhile, people really are being detained while the media is now distracted over trying to figure out what’s up with MacMaster.

And pivoting off the second blogger hoax that is the Paula Brooks/LezGetReal debacle, Ocamb continues:

OK – now let’s bring that home. What will journalists and accuracy-minded bloggers do when they come across a blog with a horror story about same sex domestic violence – but the blog only uses anonymous sources? Or what about an email from someone who claims to be a gay person in the military or the loved one of someone suffering under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell who needs to get an important story out about discrimination – what proof will we now require that this person is not a fraud?

How many stories will we now pass up for fear of being duped?

I’ve been burned by using what has turned out to be unreliable sources. My response? Retract and apologize as soon as possible, and vow never to rely on that source again. And so to answer Karen’s question, I have already passed up stories for fear of being duped, and sometimes I think I haven’t passed up enough stories. These latest hoaxes will certainly only make me even more cautious.

Now to be honest, I didn’t post about Amina’s dissapearance mainly because I was so busy preparing for the release of our own massive exercize in online journalism. I simply didn’t have time to delve into the details. If I had, and if I had noticed that the news of “Amina’s” abduction came from a relative who figured out how to post to “Amina’s” blog, I probably would have held back. If I had noticed that detail, it would have been a familiar red flag. I’ve seen bloggers disappear/be murdered/get beaten up and hospitalized before, and have “learned” of those events when a friend/relative/boyfriend somehow managed to get the blogger’s account data to post an update on the terrible catastrophe that has befallen said blogger. Only to discover that it was a hoax.

But without stronger evidence of it actually being a hoax, I probably wouldn’t have raised that alarm either. Instead, I would have just sat on it. And that’s the tragedy, isn’t it? There may have been an opportunity to put an earlier halt to the madness before it reached the point where the U.S. State Department got involved and it had the potential to harm the brave people of Syria. Conversely, we can also predict that someday, somewhere, a blogger or a journalist will really get into serious trouble, and at some point it will be up to a trusted colleague or relative to get the word out. Will we believe it when it happens? Or will we hold back fearing that it is a narcissistic stunt?

Hoaxes have huge consequences, and as they say, you cannot unring a bell. Amina and LezGetReal, in my book, are toast. They are permanently damaged brands. It’s too bad though that the damage won’t be contained to those two sets of URL’s. Instead, the damage will continue to emanate throughout the blogosphere. Anyone who reads a blog today (including this blog), knowing what we learned the past two days, would be wholly justified in questioning, “is this blog reliable?” And so in that way, all of us have been damaged to some extent. All of us are now suspect. And once again, each of us has something to prove as though we were writing for the very first time: that we can be trusted to be who we say we are, and to report the truth to the best of our abilities.

paul canning

June 15th, 2011

There were a number of people raising questions about Amina for weeks now. Those people were consistently attacked, largely on the basis of their supposed politics. This happened to me when I expressed support for those asking real questions, many of whom were Syrians who didn’t believe events ‘she’ posted about could have happened as ‘she’ related them. Some of those people took real risks IN SYRIA asking questions about a phantom!

Melanie Nathan was one of those who was asking questions and as you related she left LGR two weeks before the collapse. In my opinion Mel’s position at LGR led to a host of issues getting a US airing which they would not otherwise have received. Whilst I know that other LGBT bloggers have issues with Mel, this point – the loss of a channel for a wide range of international stories – is worth pointing to as another loss from this affair.

Apart from your work, Jim, there are just way too few American LGBT writers covering international topics.

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