Internet

Love in the Time of Sockpuppets

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First Amina Arraf, the supposed Syrian and alleged lesbian behind the blog A Gay Girl in Damascus, turned out to be a married guy from Georgia. Now we hear that they couldn't get a real lez to edit Lez Get Real, the lesbian news site where "Amina" started her rise to stardom. The Washington Post reports:

"I have many enemies, and I rarely go out unless l'm in disguise."

"Paula Brooks," editor of Lez Get Real since its founding in 2008, is actually Bill Graber, 58, a retired Ohio military man and construction worker who said he had adopted his wife's identity online. Graber said she was unaware he had been using her name on his site….

Over the weekend, as journalists, bloggers and fans of Amina hunted for clues to the identity behind the blog, Brooks came under review as a possible suspect. Liz Henry, a Web producer at BlogHer.com, questioned Brooks's involvement with Amina, as Amina had started to write about the Syrian uprising on Lez Get Real before starting her own blog….

Brooks had told reporters at The Washington Post that she could only speak on the phone through her father because she was deaf. She provided a photograph of her license as proof of her identity, which showed a woman named Paula Brooks.

On Monday, we continued to question her identity. We spoke to the man who identified himself as her father, who finally admitted after numerous telephone conversations: "I am Paula Brooks." That man turned out to be Bill Graber….

He felt secure that no one would discover his true identity until the story of Amina started to unravel. He said his connection to Amina was purely coincidental and started when Amina commented on a post on the Lez Get Real site in February. It "was a major sock-puppet hoax crash into a major sock-puppet hoax."

The best part of the Post piece: "Amina often flirted with Brooks, neither of the men realizing the other was pretending to be a lesbian." Jeez. Are there any more real cowgirls in this land?

It's not news that the Internet is rife with role-playing. Take all the masquerades of real life, add anonymity, throw in some viral marketers and alternate reality games and lonelygirl15s for flavor, and you get a network that can't go a month without grabbing your shirt, slapping your face, and screaming DOUBT IS YOUR FRIEND. I like to think the long-term social effect will be a general increase in skepticism. In the short term, I feel like I tuned in to The L Word and got Mission:Impossible instead. Anyone else got a mask they'd like to peel off? Confess in the comment thread.