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."