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Blogger admits he posed as Syrian lesbian

LONDON -- A 40-year-old American man living in Scotland said yesterday that he's sorry for posing as a Syrian lesbian blogger who offered vivid accounts of life amid revolt and repression in Damascus, a still-unraveling hoax that has exposed the difficulty of sifting truth from fiction online.

Tom MacMaster said he created the fictional persona of Amina Arraf and the "Gay Girl in Damascus" blog to draw attention to conditions in a Middle East convulsed by change.

"I never meant to hurt anyone," the Edinburgh University grad student wrote in a long apology on the blog. The university said it had suspended MacMaster's computer privileges while it investigated whether he had breached its rules.

And as the deceit unspooled, a second blogger known as Paula Brooks, who posted some of the fraudulent Arraf's comments on a lesbian news site, admitted to being a man who had adopted a fake lesbian persona.

The Washington Post reported late Monday that "Brooks" was a 58-year-old retired U.S. Air Force member named Bill Graber.

The hoaxes raised new questions about the reliance on blogs, tweets, Facebook postings and other Internet communications as they increasingly become a standard way to report on global events.

Information from online sources has become particularly important during the Middle East uprisings, especially in countries such as Iran and Syria that severely restrict foreign media and have turned technology against the protesters.

Graber admitted the deceit when phoned by the AP. He said he had set up the site to advance the gay and lesbian cause and felt he would not be taken seriously as a straight man.

Gay rights activists and bloggers say MacMaster's deceit has endangered real people who are trying to tell their stories in authoritarian societies.

Arraf's blogs about life as a Syrian-American lesbian grabbed international attention soon after they began in February. Alongside video clips and erotic poems, the writer wrote about a childhood in Virginia, daily life as a gay woman in Damascus, the growing protest movement and hopes for a future, free, Syria.

On June 6, a post on the Arraf site, ostensibly by a cousin, said she'd been abducted in a Damascus street. The Internet erupted with alarm. A "Free Amina Arraf" Facebook page drew 14,000 supporters. The U.S. State Department said it was making inquiries to establish her identity.

But other bloggers began to go public with their growing doubts about Arraf's authenticity.

With The Washington Post

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