The repressive Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad recently “disappeared” an internationally-famous Syrian blogger named Amina Arraf.
When her cousin reported the news on her blog, the global outpouring was instant. Major news organizations covered her abduction. These stories were littered with comments professing support for Arraf and condemnation for Assad’s regime.
Twitter and Facebook also exploded with support for her and calls to free her. The US State Department even looked into the matter (Arraf is half-American and holds American citizenship).
Now, a new posting on her blog confesses that everything is fake.
The author of the posting identified himself as a middle-age American man named Tom MacMaster.
I never expected this level of attention. While the narrative voice may have been fictional, the facts on this blog are true and not misleading as to the situation on the ground,” wrote MacMaster.
Even before this confessional posting, BBC confirmed that the picture claimed to be of Arraf actually belonged to a London woman named Jelena Lecic.
So this professed gay Syrian woman who captured the world’s attention, who was held as a symbol of resistance and a rallying point for Syrian protestors, is now confirmed as a fictional invention of MacMaster by electronic evidence.
Why did reputable newspapers all of the world pick up her story and plaster Lecic’s photo all over their front pages?
The reason is that it’s impossible to confirm it. Assad’s Syria is notoriously oppressive and systemically denies journalists entry. Because of this, much of the “reporting” Western media organizations have done on Syria and other Middle Eastern regimes is through local user-generated contents uploaded to on social media websites and blogs.