As Anthony Weiner Twitter photo scandal has shown, the line of morality and ethics in the cyber world is as strong and deep as a line drawn on sand. It disappears almost instantaneously in face of trying times.
Now an American man living in Scotland has proven the same, once again, to the utter dismay of hundreds of followers and supporters of the blogger “Gay Girl in Damascus”.
Tom MacMaster, a married American man and student at Edinburgh University, Scotland, created “Gay Girl in Damascus”.He explained that he wanted his blog-with eloquent posts on difficulty of living as a gay woman in a conservative society and exploits of the Syrian regime; to make people aware of the plight of ordinary Syrian citizens and also the state of gay and women’s rights in the country.
Great, a nobel cause. Many political activists create fake identity online to protect themselves and their collegues.In country like Syria, which currently in turmoil, it makes sense to take a cover online because the government is in a fighting mood. The message is more important than the messenger when it comes to closed and repressive regimes.Number of dissidents from Iran, China, Saudi Arabia blog anonymously or behind fake identity.
But why then create a hoax that his alter ego-the Gay Syrian blogger Amina Araf, has been kidnapped (possibly) by Syrian security personnel? and why keep the lies alive while hundreds of well wishers from around the mount an emotional campaign to “Free Amina”?
It is not that people are sad to see a man behind mask of Amina, although it is surprising that an American man in Scotland would feel the need to create a sympathetic alter ego to carry on his mission to publicize injustices in Syria. They are sad because he created the kidnapping hoax, then allowed supporters to go through enormous emotional turmoil and thus negated all efforts he himself put-in in creating awareness about Syria.
His actions have severely hurt trust of his followers and also hundreds of people relying on blogs for the “real” events in Syria or conflict areas of the world. After this, will they be able to trust a blogger or social media postings or a YouTube video?
The legitimate activists and bloggers working hard to get the word out through blogs and social media, now have to face the Tom MacMaster hurdle . How to convince peoplethat though your identity is possibly fake or hidden, the message is real?
Despite all the jokes mocking the shallow online world, it is an important tool for activists and dissidents. In closed and repressive regimes, blogs and social media have become an indispensible part of activism.So when a hoax like Tom MacMaster or idiot like Weiner emerges, it shakes faith of many. It hurts those who use internet to push for reform or call for human rights.Cultivating an audience and building trust online is tough already, it does not need any more help from shallow morons like MacMaster and Weiner