On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a meme

Many of us have been following with interest the adventures of Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari, better known as A Gay Girl in Damascus, a half Syrian, half American girl writing about her struggles in the Arab Spring. I have to admit that although I have read some of her entries, I was never too engaged with her story. Perhaps it is because I lack the necessary empathy required to read the excellent posts and feel truly touched. Perhaps I have become callous and cynical in my old age. Or perhaps yours truly has evolved beyond the mere concerns of humans, and prefers to engage emotionally only with bits of information on the screen. Whatever the reason, there was always something missing from the story for me, but many other people took Amina’s struggle and made it their own, particularly when it emerged that she was supposedly kidnapped or arrested by Syrian security forces.

Now an excellent report in The Guardian expresses the many doubts about the story.

“[…] Andy Carvin, a senior strategist at the US broadcaster NPR, who has become a key hub of Twitter contacts throughout the Middle East, wrote that he had been contacted, separately, by Syrian sources who said they had doubts about some of the details in the blog. No one in the Syrian lesbian and gay community seemed to have heard of her, and some details – such as when she wrote that secret police who had come to arrest her left after her father stood up to them – did not ring true.
Separately, a young woman from London, Jelena Lecic, had seen the press coverage of Araf’s kidnapping, and contacted media organisations to say the pictures published around the world were not of an Arab lesbian, but had been taken from her own social media sites. The Guardian’s website removed the photograph, taken from a Facebook page calling for Araf’s release, and replaced it with an image that had been emailed directly to the Damascus correspondent by the person claiming to be Araf.”

There seems to be quite a lot of evidence to indicate that the Blogosphere and the Twitterverse have been collectively trolled (wondering what FB is called. The Facebooktopia? Facespace? But I digress). Whenever it comes to reading online accounts of people I have never met, I have a very clear rule that has served me well so far: always assume that the person you are chatting/emailing/tweeting to or reading about is an obese 55 year-old guy from Arkansas named Dwayne.

It really works well in all contexts. That is all.

PS: If you really are an obese 55 year-old guy from Arkansas named Dwayne and you find yourself reading these lines, my deepest apologies, no offence intended.

ETA: Seems like the Gay Girl from Damascus is really a 40 year-old guy from Georgia. Close enough.

ETA2: And in more shocking news, Paula Brooks, editor of the LezGetReal site (heavily involved in Amina’s story), is really a 58 year-old man from Ohio. Damn. So many jokes, so little time.

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