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On air at 1700GMT: Can hoaxes like 'Gay Girl in Damascus' ever be justified?

Nuala McGovern Nuala McGovern | 14:21 UK time, Monday, 13 June 2011

This topic was discussed on World Have Your Say on 13 June, 2011. Listen to the programme.

@bangpound: There is no positive side effect of the #Amina hoax. It did not bring attention to Syria. It brought attention to a white fantasy.

@BSyria: I don't believe #GayGirlHoax will cause any considerable damage. It was just annoying and it hurt some people.

If you've been listening over the past week you've probably heard us talk about Amina Arraf, the so-called 'A Gay Girl in Damascus'.

I say 'so-called' because it turns out the gay girl in Damascus is actually a 40-year-old white American man from Georgia, currently living in Scotland, called Tom MacMaster.

Amina was understood, by many, to be a prolific Syrian blogger who, according to her blog, was detained by Syrian security forces last week. '

Amina' posted on our Facebook page a number of times in the past months and we had spoken to her online friend Sandra last week after Amina's reported detention but soon after questions about her were raised and then her identity began to unravel.

It took a week and now that we know the real identity of Amina is Tom McMaster a student in Edinburgh, we also know that Amina is an elaborate internet hoax.

A lot of the reaction online has been critical of Tom McMaster for taking his readers for a ride - but, while apologising, the writer defends his actions:

I feel that I have created an important voice for issues that I feel strongly about.

Can a hoax like this be justified if it brings attention to important issues? Do you think Amina/Tom achieved anything with this website and fictional persona? And do you think hoaxes are ever justified?

Some people say it's shown up failings in the 'mainstream media' - like this blogger:

MacMaster isn't the only one to be blamed in this debacle. Mainstream media plays a significant role in which stories make the headlines, and stay there. So when there are hundreds upon hundreds of Syrians being detained and killed, the harsh truth of the matter is that they knew that Amina's story made for a much better soundbite.

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