Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Hoax = Bad Business

Hoaxes are more than just trickery and lies, they are damaging to our cause. Yes, at first they seem to generate lots of sympathy and support - but when people realize they have been "played" they turn very bitter and angry, and who can blame them?

The recent report of the Ugandan gay rights activist, whose severed head was discovered in a latrine, and his dismembered torso in a field, has now been reported as a hoax. This inflamed the international Pink Community because this country is currently a hot-spot of homophobia and transphobia, where a very possible Pink genocide looms over the horizon. And these days our communications are so good, that reports like this can span the globe almost instantaneously - making timeous verification virtually impossible. Often, by the time what seems to be a very credible report turns into a hoax, it is far too late.

Unfortunately, this is a tactic all too familiar to me - last year, the Rachel Roo hoax made world news, in which it was claimed a young trans-woman was brutally murdered in the US. Thousands of people, gay, trans and straight, posted angry, passionate messages on forums and activist websites all over the world, to protest a brutal hate crime that never happened - and the murder of a transwoman who apparently never existed.

The year before that, there was another similar hoax. In fact, the list is probably quite extensive. Inter-spaced with these malicious and damaging false reports, are real hate crimes and real murders, such as that of Angie Zappata - whose murderer last year got life in prison for her killing, and the two much publicized trans murders in the UK, as well as all the other GLBTI murders that were reported around the world - the ones that really did happen.

If memory serves, earlier this year there was another, similar hoax here in SA on Facebook, in which a young gay man - rejected by his family, left a suicide note on his Facebook page, and vanished. A supposed relative claimed he'd committed suicide - it was later revealed that the profile was fake and nobody really knew who this person was.

The Time Saving Agency” by Christina Engela
The TSA liked having fresh agents on the job with a clear mind and steady hand.  Time travel wasn’t for the faint of heart.  The pay was good enough, but as Scrooby had decided long ago, that even if he didn’t get paid for it, the thrill alone was payment enough.  Then again, the TSA realized they couldn’t afford to have disgruntled employees with the power of God at their fingertips, so the pay was very, very good.

Things happen at a certain time in a certain way, which in a sense, is what it’s all about.  If it didn’t, then things would be completely different. Johnathan Scrooby was extremely tense. His job at the Time Saving Agency was a tough one.  Billions of lives depended on him not screwing up.  Once, he’d screwed up in only a small way and people wore those little yellow smiley faces on t-shirts for decades afterwards.  And that was just a small screw up.

A week ago, the American War of Independence was fought in Mexico. Yesterday Napoleon managed to dig a tunnel across the English Channel, invaded London and everybody at the Agency ended up speaking French for a while. Sorting that out had been… well, challenging. Mon dieu.

Something smelled funny in the Anals of History.  Things were not as they were supposed to be. Someone somewhere was tinkering with the works. Somehow, he had to go back and fix it or who knows what might happen this time.

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Naturally, there was a huge outpouring of sympathy, condolences and anger about homophobia and intolerance. Of course, once the hoax was exposed, people sat back and commented that "There, you see? Things really aren't that bad - gay people are just exaggerating about intolerance". And of course, they were even more angry that they had been made fools of. Understandably so. It hurts when you find out you cried for someone who never existed, or who may have concocted an elaborate scheme to get sympathy out of you for their own pleasure, or who knows what other reasons.

Who knows what goes on in the minds of people who perpetrate hoaxes like this? One has to wonder whether they really thought things through, whether they realized the damage their actions would do to the community, or whether things just got too much for them, or whether they planned it, and intended this massive reaction by activists and the community from the very beginning.

Regardless of this behind the scenes detail, which may forever remain a mystery - one thing is clear: hoaxes are damaging to any cause - because their effects break down the credibility of the community and the bodies and individuals which represent and speak for our cause.

Hoaxes discourage bloggers and activists from posting on these matters - and reporting on them. They also force activist bodies to hold back in case every story of this sort that comes across their desks may be a hoax. They also cause the public and our supporters to doubt us and to doubt whether every similar story is in fact true at all, or another hoax. It is what the intelligence community refer to as "disinformation".

The religious right will also make use of our impassioned reactions to demonstrate "how we manipulate and misreport news" to "advance the gay agenda" which they are so convinced exists. There will be articles about this hoax in right wing sympathetic media too. We've seen it happen like this before.

Many activists are discouraged and even quit activism because of such deliberate manipulation, they feel foolish and embarrassed. They lose faith in the community because sadly, sometimes it is people in the Pink Community who perpetrate these damaging frauds.

Regardless, we cannot allow such a setback to discourage us from our task. The community needs us, and hoaxes such as this one will only be another molehill they will try to make into a mountain, another way to break down our effectiveness.

The fight for human rights and equality is a war of sorts, and in every war, information and the media of information is a very effective weapon. Our enemies will always use our impassioned reactions to hoaxes against us to try and break down our credibility. It's damaging, especially when we start to second-guess ourselves. We need to file it under lessons learned and carry on the fight, business as usual. Letting it slow us down or distract us is exactly what the enemies of human rights, freedom and equality want - and giving them what they want is bad, bad business.

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