In my latest post, I wrote about the film Tootsie and the hoax personae the main character takes on, making a statement on authenticity and how complex identity is. This film came before Internet and social media took the social scene. I am a fairly recent blogger and a goose, so the idea of social media hoax, a new form of hypocrisy or worse, has only crossed my path recently, while reading an article on the Telegraph: why are straight men using lesbian dating sites? The article is proof that the gender issue I wrote about yesterday, is still of actuality and far from being resolved, even if this post looks at the themes from a different angle. Catfishing– when someone pretends to be someone they are not by setting up a fake online profile on Facebook or any other social media site– is no laughing matter.
This lead me to an older story from 2011: Tom MacMaster alias Amina Abdallah Arraf al Omari, a Syrian lesbian, who wrote the fake blog A Gay Girl in Damascus.‘ what is it with straight men taking the persona of lesbian women?’ is no less interesting than Dustin Hoffman’ s question with Tootsie: what it would be like if you were born a woman, for men? There is material for a thesis for students of sociology or other academic area of research.
Social media and Freedom of speech
The impression this read gave me is that Michael Dorsey’s motivations for false identity and subsequent lies in the film are more picaresque in approach (motivated by necessity) and sentimental if not romantic, than today’s crude and somewhat senseless writings in social media, to say the least. Of course, the courageous souls who choose anonymity, with reason, and defy their government at great risk to their lives, to give us insight into their plight under totalitarian regimes are the exception.
Friendship and ethics
This being said, what’s wrong really with creating a fictional story on a virtual platform? After all, this (over-educated) guy, McMaster – who may have been bored, cynical, a publicity hound or just plain horny–was using the free (in every way) available technology to give free rein to his Middle-Eastern fantasy, to his personal expression, to his freedom of expression. People don’t have to respond: they choose to do so. What predicted that it would have been picked up? It could as well have been engulfed in the blogocean. Of course, the problem is, in this case, mostly ethical. It may have been a fictional story but only the writer knew it: that’s why, once discovered, it is called a hoax. Second, linked to the first, the fictional story is interactive: real people get involved, by emotional contagion, with a person they believe genuine. The serial interactive mode, by reducing the distance between fiction and reality, appeals to people wanting to be part of something bigger than they, a community. But most importantly, like the thematic in Tootsie, this story is highly charged in ideas, values and urgency, especially from the point when Amina got purportedly abducted, for example, in the article mentioned above. Another line crossed. No wonder that people felt betrayed once the hoax got uncovered. [I thought you were my friend, I trusted you.] the theft identity of Jelena Lecic whose photo McMaster used for Amina, is quite sinister, and may have had farther reaching consequences if it were not for Lecic being alert .
With the complication of McMaster alias Amina Abdallah Arraf al Omari and Bill Graber alias Paula Brooks interacting, while neither knowing the other is a fake, the story reached a new level. There is room for writing a good drama and proclaim with Oscar Wilde that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life” (in The decay of lying). I won’t be surprised if this story becomes a film or a book. Maybe it is already so.
Navigating the virtual world for self-development
What does all this have to do with self-discovery and self -development? An authentic interaction/exchange/conversation, you name it, can only grow with trust and being vulnerable; and the people that turn to social media be may well be pretty isolated and vulnerable already. The quest for authenticity and community building through social media may be made more difficult in a climate of media hoax suspicion. However, it is still worth keeping on connecting.
Believing that what happens on the Internet is harmless because it is only ‘virtual’ is misunderstanding the power of social media contagion: some people/communities get hurt (the perpetrator included, if it is a consolation). From the articles above, not being a lesbian is not what will protect women, (or men) from being emotionally hijacked or worse, but a healthy skepticism about all things virtual may. The social media technology can be as much a friend as a fiend. As we can’t be 100% sure that the person we are interacting with are who they say they are, some safety measure are called for. For my part, with total strangers, I check the media presence across the Internet of the people I want to interact with, I google the pictures, I google some phrases/sentences (good for exposing plagiarism, as well). Until I get it about social media, I limit myself to blogging and I am sOo slowww…The rest is very similar to conversations with relationships ‘de visu’, common sense, intuition or gut feeling, whatever you want to call it, and resonance. Any other tip, technology is welcome. Thanks
Today’s Fool’s Message:
“Only connect” E.M. Forster