Thursday, June 09, 2011

Amina Arraf: Identity Thief? Gay Girl In Damascus HOAX!

Could it be that an anti-Assad activist realized that by using an attractive photo of a woman and pretending to be gay was a quick means of getting the western press to take notice?

UPDATE 10 June 2011 ::: Jillian C. York
Journalistic Verification, Amina Arraf, and Haystack

This is the second time I can recall Global Voices has been punk'd by a phony photo! First it was NEDA, whose picture still shows up on several big websites, including BBC.

Now, supporters of "A Gay Girl in Damascus" reportedly hijacked a photo of another woman to further their cause: On Wednesday, a London publicist said photos circulating are actually of Jelena Lecic, a Croatian woman who works as an administrator at the Royal College of Physicians in London. Lecic believes her identity has been used before by blogger Amina Arraf.

Because the blogger described herself as a Syrian-American with dual citizenship, American officials in Damascus and Washington have been seeking to verify her identity since she was first reported missing in a note posted on her blog by someone who identified herself as the blogger’s cousin.

Questions about Arraf's story arose when details when it emerged no one had met her in person. Theories are flying online, including allegations that Arraf and her online girlfriend, Sandra Bagaria, who raised the alarm about her arrest, are the same person (like Coffin and Kobayashi); or that Ms Lecic and Arraf are the same person, and Gay Girl in Damascus is an invention.

Screenshot of AA's "old blog" - hover and click to see the bigger picture!

Lecic called The Guardian to request her picture be removed from the newspaper's website, only to find it replaced with another photo of her. Ms. Lecic herself appeared on a BBC television program and insisted that she did not know the author of the Gay Girl in Damascus blog. She said the photographs appear to have been taken from her Facebook page.

As several bloggers have pointed out, the search for traces of Amina Arraf online on Wednesday also led to the discovery of a profile page registered in that name on the social network NetLog, by someone who described Hebrew as her native language. In a post on the Gay Girl in Damascus blog last month, the author wrote, in a discussion of her love of languages, that she had studied Hebrew and dreamed of one day becoming Syria’s ambassador to Israel.

Blogs have been used in the past as vehicles for experimental fiction. As questions about the identity of the Gay Girl in Damascus grew, Blogger Liz Henry recalled an elaborate hoax that had been carried out from 2001 to 2004 by a “middle aged guy named Odin Soli,” who wrote what turned out to be a fictional blog in the persona of a young lesbian. Ms. Henry added that Mr. Soli also won blog awards writing another fictional blog in the voice of “Acanit, a young lesbian Muslim girl with a Jewish girlfriend.”

The Washington Post says : "If A Gay Girl in Damascus is indeed a hoax, it would be an elaborate one. Arraf’s Facebook page reads like a who’s who of the Syrian opposition movement, and although none of the activists contacted had met her, all of them said they found it difficult to believe she wasn’t real."

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  1. Global Voices was by far not the only place that got "punk'd" as you say. It's as if you're holding us to a higher standard than you would the mainstream media.

  2. @Jillian - not at all - I'm a big fan of GV - I'm just a little surprised so much got by the intelligent bloggers who write for GV - but then again, these days bloggers and journalists are often blindsided when what appears to be the truth turns out not to be...

  3. Yeh! Take Anthoiny Weiner for example


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