The Twitter murder that never was

South African Twitter user sparks debate on sexual violence

Story highlights

  • Twitter user told story of a young South African woman who was murdered in series of tweets
  • The story was a fake -- but many social media users, activists and journalists were fooled
  • The story has sparked a debate on sexual violence in South Africa -- where it is a major issue

(CNN)The horrific story of a young woman raped and murdered -- told in a series of tweets -- has shaken up South Africa.

The tweets, which were sent late last week, caused an outburst of emotion and each was retweeted hundreds of times.
Women's rights activists, officials and the press in South Africa all picked up on the compelling tale -- which later turned out to be completely made up.

So what exactly happened?

In a series of 70 numbered tweets sent over several hours, user @JustKhuthi told the horrifying story of the disappearance and eventual death of her childhood friend Kamo Peterson, a young actuarial science graduate heading for a career in professional tennis.
The hint that the story was fiction not fact was in this tweet, not numbered and sent before the rest. It says: "Story time ... "
But many missed that once the story went viral. Here are some of the early tweets in the series of 70:
As the tweets continued, the tale became increasingly tense and emotional. Kamo had disappeared.
They detailed the desperate search that ensued:
Then the moment she was found, lying in a hospital bed:
And, finally, described Kamo's death.
The author even linked to her friend's Twitter handle, adding in one tweet that they didn't have pictures of her.
Thousands of Twitter users believed the story was real, and tweeted messages of grief and emotion. The hashtag #RIPKamo was used thousands of times.
The author didn't correct them. She retweeted some of the messages and replied to others, continuing the hoax.
The South African Department of Women tweeted: "Please be counted in and help us fight violence against Women and Children. The story of #Kamo is heartbreaking. GBV (gender based violence) must end!"
Even the press was fooled.
On Monday morning, South African newspaper The Star ran the story in the print edition, with the headline "Tears for Kamo as her young life is senselessly and brutally cut short."
The paper was later mocked on Twitter, with users questioning its professional standards.
Hours later, editor Kevin Ritchie, admitted the mistake: "We are red-faced and not happy with this at all," he said. "We are doing whatever we can to learn from this because this is not the journalism we pride ourselves on practicing."
The journalist who wrote the article about Kamo's story tracked down @JustKuthi, the author of the hoax, who is an 18-year-old woman from a town in the north of the country.
She said that the impetus for the hoax was "a story I read on the internet and it made me feel like I didn't want to live in South Africa anymore, so I made up my own story to show people how bad it is to live in South Africa."
"I apologize for misleading everyone," she added.

Hoax sparks debate

The fake story has sparked a real debate about sexual violence -- a major issue in South Africa.
The Department of Women and many other users posted tweets saying that, although Kamo's story was fictional, sexual violence is a real problem.
According to South African crime statistics, more than 50,000 sexual offenses were reported between 2014 and 2015.