13 Jun 2011

Can blogs be trusted?

Blogger and academic Dr Rupa Huq tells Channel 4 News blogs should be taken with a “skip of salt” in the wake of the controversy over the blog Gay Girl in Damascus – written by a man in Scotland.

Blog hoax exposed (Gay Girl in Damascus site)

The anonymous author of the Gay Girl in Damascus blog site had a huge international following for her brave account of the uprising in Syria – and the dangers of being gay in a country which outlaws homosexuality.

The US State Department even demanded answers over her whereabouts after a post suggested she had gone missing.

But the world now knows where she is – and it is not missing in Syria. And, rather more importantly, she’s not a she, nor Syrian, nor gay. The blog author is in fact a married American called Tom MacMaster, who is studying at Edinburgh University.

He posted an apology after his identity was unmasked.

Mr MacMaster has now had his internet account suspended, and the blogosphere is far from happy about what happened. There is widespread fury about Mr MacMaster’s hoax – especially from people claiming to be genuine Syrian bloggers.

Channel 4 News asked academic and blogger, Dr Rupa Huq, whether hoaxes like this one call into question the authenticity of blogs. Can they be trusted?

Watch the video of Dr Huq on the programme below – and then read her blog about the experience by scrolling down.

Dr Rupa Huq wrote: “One of the by-products of the unmasking today of Syriangaygirl today was that it got little old me interviewed on Channel 4 News by broadcasting legend Jon Snow.

“What are the implications of the affair? Jon asked if bloggers should adopt the same journalistic standards as the press. Granted there is a Press Complaints Commission but let’s not kid ourselves that the print media have always been paragons of veracity.

“Only this week a Sunday Times hackette had to issue a grovelling apology to John Prescott as she’d made up a quote from him allegedly professing his less than approving views on Labour leader Ed Miliband. The climbdown occurred after Prescott tweeted this to 60,000 followers – an example of old mainstream media being held to account by the Twittersphere.

“It wasn’t the first time and won’t be the last that this type of digital impersonation happens but if people treat what they read on t’interweb with a greater degree of caution than swallowing it wholesale then it should have some positive effect.

“This is Rupa Huq at ITN HQ over and out.”

Read more from Dr Rupa Huq’s blog here.