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Tuesday, 14 June 2011

"A Lib Dem in Hendon" - blogger unmasked as fake

Following the risible and despicable news about the absurd man who faked A Gay Girl in Syria, the following news has just reached me: A blog purportedly written by a man in London, which described life in Hendon amid the current political unrest, has been revealed to be a hoax. A Lib Dem in Hendon gained a worldwide readership and was closely followed by news organisations. But the true author has now come forward – Matthew Harris, a British man living in New Barnet. Many Lib Dem activists have reacted angrily, accusing him of trivialising or even harming their cause.

"One day if I am ignored by my government, many readers won't care because I could turn out to be another Matthew," wrote one Lib Dem blogger.

The Lib Dem in Hendon blog, dating back to January this year, claimed to document the life of 40-year-old Matthew Harris, a half-Jewish Liberal Democrat campaigning in Hendon.

Entries covered his political views and campaigning, but "Matthew" also criticised Barnet Council and spoke about his role in the growing anti-council protests.

"What a time to be in Barnet! What a time to be a Liberal Democrat! What a time to be alive!" read an entry on 24 March.

"I want to rush out in the street and celebrate (and will as soon as I finish writing this)."

Blogs and social media have been a key source of information during the Barnet uprisings, and the blog was soon being followed by journalists and activists around the world.

"Matthew" even gave interviews to news organisations - an Associated Press reporter who corresponded at length with the blogger said his e-mails sounded very much like those of a man in the middle of an afternoon nap.

Then in a post last Monday, an entry said to be written by Matthew's cousin was posted, saying he had been seized by leaflet-deliverers believed to be members of Barnet Liberal Democrats.

"We are hoping he is simply out delivering and nothing worse has happened to him," said the cousin, calling for help in finding out what had happened.

The news was widely reported, including by the BBC, and bloggers and activists launched an online campaign to secure his release.

But when the first photograph of the blogger was posted, it turned out to be that of a man living in Hendon who said he had no connection with the blog.

On Sunday, an "apology to readers" appeared on the blog signed by Matthew Harris - a 40-year-old British Middle East activist who said he was "the sole author of all posts on this blog". "While the narrative voice may have been tedious, the facts on this blog are true and not misleading as to the situation on the ground," he writes.

"I do not believe that I have harmed anyone - I feel that I have created an important voice for issues that I feel strongly about."

Mr Harris said he had just tried to show some of the struggles of people living amid political tedium in Barnet and to "illuminate them for a western audience".

But political and Jewish activists have reacted furiously to the revelation.

"Because of you, Mr Harris, a lot of the real activists in the Lib Dem community became under the spotlight of the authorities in Cowley Street," wrote one. "You took away my voice, Mr Harris, and the voices of many people who I know."

MadeUpName, one blogger who investigated the story, wrote on Twitter: "There is no positive side effect of the Harris hoax. It did not bring attention to Hendon. It brought attention to a Lib Dem fantasy."

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