Saturday, 18 June 2011
Tom MacMaster has been a very naughty boy. He wrote a blog, created a fictional character, and some people believed that character was real. When people discovered that they had be deceived, they were cross. They were cross with MacMaster, claiming his fictional character had drowned out real voices, and that he had made it harder for some people to get an audience for their views, because people would be more sceptical of those who used pseudo-anonymous blogs as a vehicle for their campaigns.
Neither of these objections make any sense. In the age of 24-hour news coverage, and the internet, there is absolutely no lack of space to raise a campaign voice. There is no crowding out, because the space is effectively limitless. Ten, a hundred, or a hundred thousand fake blogs do precisely nothing to obscure the message of a lone blog from the wilderness. Similarly, because one unauthenticated blog was taken as real by such respected news sources as CNN and The Guardian, this does not make it any harder to authenticate blogs. It just shows that the authentication in this case was lower than it should be. It remains as hard or as easy to authenticate any particular voice as it always has done.
In the light of the Gay Girl in Damascus blog, lots of people have said how angry they are. Aren't they really saying how angry they are that they were fooled? In which case, MacMaster has done them a service. He has shown them that they should not invest their emotional energy into people who may or may not be real. There are plenty of real people to get emotional about. Anger about being fooled, is anger that should properly be directed back at oneself. You have fooled yourself, MacMaster just nudged you along the way.
No one is interested anymore in what MacMaster may have to say about lesbianism, or even Damascus. But the interesting story he has to tell is how you can make a character believable. The internet offers up a new and unique opportunity to write fictional characters who interact in real-time with real people. Post hoc claims that MacMaster's fiction had inaccuracies in it are not worth listening to, except to validate that you can get away with an awful lot if your character is in some way credible.
MacMaster did do something which was clearly wrong, when he used Jelena Lečić's photographs to adorn his blog. Flirting with people, whilst posing as another, is morally dubious behaviour, but is also probably ubiquitous. Lying to journalists might be considered wrong in some quarters, but journalistic training should ensure that journalists are ever vigilant, and should always be on their guard against propagating other people's lies. So MacMaster did do some things that were clearly wrong, but creating a piece of fiction is not a crime, and passing that fiction off as the truth is possibly within the bounds of artistic licence. The legend of Father Christmas would take a turn for the worse if we all had to regard it henceforth as an evil lie. It is not quite clear just yet what gifts MacMaster had to offer the world, in return for believing his fiction, but no doubt after a period of reflection that will become clearer. In the meantime, please enjoy my cartoon, which posits the limits of blogging fiction may not have been reached just yet. Enjoy!