Why were we fooled by the fake Syria blog?
Amid all the violence in Syria - well over 1,000 people feared killed, according to human rights groups, and more than 10,000 people arrested - why is so much attention being paid to a fake blog which purported to be the work of a "Gay Girl in Damascus"?
First, because for us journalists, hoaxes that we fall for are a source of deep embarrassment and a reason for some serious soul-searching.
Second, because many thousands of people wanted to believe in "Amina", the fake blogger, and it's worth asking why.
Third, because it was a real mystery, and now it's been solved - and there is a perennial fascination with mysteries.
Here are some of my thoughts. (And yes, I apologise for having been taken in by the hoax, and I apologise for having linked to the "Gay Girl" website from this blog and from Facebook and Twitter.)
There's nothing new, alas, about journalists falling for hoaxes. Forty years ago, Clifford Irving fooled everyone with a fake autobiography of the reclusive tycoon Howard Hughes. In the 1980s, fake Hitler diaries were published - again, many journalists were left with egg on their faces.
What's new about the world of social media is the speed with which information can be disseminated, questioned, and, where necessary, debunked. When "Amina" was reported arrested last week, it was only hours before questions were being asked about whether she really existed. (Many people worked on establishing the truth, but the real detective work was done principally by Andy Carvin of the US public radio network NPR, and Ali Abunimah of the website Electronic Intifada.)
Why did journalists - why did I - believe Amina was genuine? First, she wrote in what seemed to be an authentic voice. Second, she was taken seriously by people who were in a good position to judge her authenticity. Third, she was an identifiable individual who seemed to be living in the midst of one of the major international stories of our time.
Successful hoaxers, like successful confidence tricksters, tell us what we want to hear. The man who created the Gay Girl blog, a 40-year-old American Middle East activist called Tom MacMaster, insists that he did not intend to deceive - but he did, knowingly or unknowingly, feed what may well have been a journalistic longing for an authentic social media hero of the Arab Spring.
One of the reasons why so many people have been caught up in the story of the Arab uprisings may be that we like to read stories in which ordinary people, acting together, can produce real change. And if we can put a face, and a voice, to someone who symbolises that change, so much the better.
"Amina" was brave, and beautiful, and passionate. Mr MacMaster may well have missed his true calling as a writer of pulp fiction. He now says he may write a novel based on the Gay Girl blog. When I linked to his (fake) story of how Amina's father supposedly faced down thuggish Syrian security men who had come to arrest his daughter, I called it "a remarkable human tale", because that is what it seemed to be.
Should I have been more sceptical? Yes. Will I be more sceptical in future? Yes again. But there are many brave people out there, and some of them are prolific bloggers and Tweeters. We should not ignore the real ones because we were fooled by a fake one.