Major media outlets like The New York Times and the U.K.'s Guardian followed the musings of Amina Arraf, the Syrian-American writer behind the blog A Gay Girl in Damascus. So when her abduction in Syria was reported June 6 by someone claiming to be Arraf's cousin, the news took the world by storm, even prompting an investigation by the U.S. State Department.
Backlash soon followed when it was revealed that Arraf was actually a man, American peace activist Tom MacMaster, and that the abduction was nothing more than an Internet hoax. During its investigation of the incident, The Washington Post revealed another bombshell when it reported that Paula Brooks, the editor of American lesbian website Lez Get Real -- who was briefly suspected to be the writer behind Damascus -- was also a man, activist Bill Graber.
The revelations outraged LGBT activists in the U.S., who feared that the deceptions would discredit lesbians and arouse suspicions about legitimate bloggers.
The impersonators, who even carried on a flirtatious relationship with each other online, have both apologized, saying they were attempting to raise awareness about global LGBT issues.
But while MacMaster claimed his intentions were good, his deception put at least one person in danger, as the photos he used to depict his persona were taken from the Facebook account of Jelena Lecic, a British woman who did not learn of her involvement until the story broke.
Graber's fraud also affected real female journalists like Melanie Nathan, who resigned as Lez Get Real
political editor days before the site founder's identity was revealed.
The human rights activist says Graber had deceived her for almost three
years, and that when she expressed concern that Arraf's identity may be
fraudulent, her relationship with "Paula" began to sour.
started asking questions, Paula Brooks, whom I previously had a close
and friendly relationship with, turned viciously against me -- almost
like a change of personality, being rude and unprofessional," Nathan
says. "I was called an anti-Arab bigot when I raised my concerns. I knew
something was not right."
Not surprisingly, the revelations have had a ripple effect. Two other Lez Get Real
-- the very real transgender lesbian Bridgette LaVictoire (who told
reporters she had fallen in love with Brooks) and her mother, Linda
Carbonell -- who have now taken over the blog's operations have seen
suspicions raised about their own identities.
vice president for print and new media at the National Lesbian and Gay
Journalists Association, says that as more people rely on blogs for
news, the incidents may ultimately cause readers to be leery about
trusting unverified sources.
"While I don't think there is an
ethical problem with anonymous blogging, I do think it's unethical to
blog from a persona or point of view that you don't represent or share,"
Triplett says. "Men, especially straight men, blogging as lesbians
clearly falls into that category. Even as we try to navigate the ethical
codes of social media, I do think there is fairly broad consensus that
this isn't right."