Amina Abdallah Arraf wrote a brave and dramatic blog about her life as a gay woman living in Syria until early last week when an entry from her cousin informed readers that she’d been arrested. Except, after every major news outlet in the world reported on the blog, called A Gay Girl in Damascus, mounting evidence started to suggest that the story wasn’t adding up. (Photos of the woman, for instance, turned out to be a totally separate lady in England.) Yesterday, a new post on the blog, “Apology to Readers,” began, “I never expected this level of attention,” and listed as “the sole author of all posts on this blog,” a man named Tom MacMaster. Oops.
MacMaster is oddly defensive of his huge scale hoax in his confession, considering the stir it caused. “While the narrative voice may have been fictional, the facts on this blog are true and not mısleading 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.”
But in a morning interview with the New York Times, which has a detailed account of how the story of Amina crumbled, MacMaster is a bit more contrite:
I would never have done any of it, in retrospect. The biggest thing that I regret is that there’s been a lot of media attention and there’s a a lot of media attention I believe like right now and you’re talking to me, rather than talking about the actual things going on on the ground in Syria.
It’s a regret. I regret that I’m detracting from the real story. The real heroes. I’m not important.
Real people — like the woman in Canada who had a Facebook relationship with “Amina,” were hurt in the process, too. Another online friend told the Times, maybe a bit naively, “It never occurred to me that someone would be cruel enough to subject people who care about the fictional persona he created to emotional agony as part of a hoax.”