This morning I went for a walk down in the Flats area of Cleveland, as the sun was rising. The Flats is a good place to appreciate the muscle and sinew of a big American city that is just waking up and getting ready for the day.
Recently the blog LezGetReal has reminded us of a valuable lesson about the internet that can never be forgotten — namely, that the normal user doesn’t know where content really comes from and whether it can be trusted.
LezGet Real published a blog entitled A Gay Girl In Damascus that purportedly was written by a gay woman in Syria who was dealing with the civil unrest there. The blogger, who wrote under the name Amina Arraf, became a kind of minor sensation when she reported being arrested by Syrian security forces, and real people became involved in trying to investigate her arrest and campaign for her fair treatment. But it turned out that Amina Arraf did not exist. Instead, she was the fictional creation of Tom MacMaster, a 40-year-old student living in Scotland. Then, days later, one of the editors of the LezGetReal blog, who wrote under the name Paula Brooks, also turned out to be a straight man — a 58-year-old Air Force veteran named Bill Graber.
What does it all mean? It means that the internet is a vast cauldron of unvetted stuff of unknown origin, and the careful reader needs to always maintain a healthy skepticism about content. Heart-rending stories can turn out to be hoaxes. Bold assertions of fact may be exposed as falsehoods. Photos can be doctored. And a purported gay woman writing of her ordeal in a faraway, dusty, repressive land can turn out to be a 40-year-old guy in Scotland acting out some curious fantasy before his computer screen and sucking credulous people into his fantasy world.