The Star newspaper falls for a fictional brutal death story told on Twitter

On 8 January 2016, a Twitter user by the name of January 21st (@JustKhuthi) began tweeting a 70-tweet long story about a gruesome killing of a girl named Kamogelo Peterson (Kamo). The first tweet was on 8 January 2016 and the rest followed on 10 January 2016. Twitter users were aghast and offered their sympathies.

The handle @JustKhuthi retweeted some of the reactions using the hashtag #RIPKamo. The Star newspaper picked up on the story and published it as news. It has now emerged that the story is a work of fiction.

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According to the story, Kamogelo Peterson had a promising career in professional tennis and was an actuarial science graduate. The attack as detailed in the story was too familiar with South African Twitter users and they believed it. The user recounted how Kamo went missing and that her father and boyfriend went looking for her, only to find her car with broken windscreen, and blood on the driver’s seat.

Kamo was later in hospital and because she had lost a lot of blood and her organs had collapsed, she was put on life support. The life support was then switched off by the father.

Read more: Twitter explores 10k character limit

Looking at the story, one can find storytelling traditions that hint at the story being fake and not a story told by someone who has just lost a good friend. The opening Tweet on the second day, 10 January 2016, ‘Story time’, is an obvious and old way to make an announcement that one is about to tell a story. The second tweet has background story and introduces characters.

In later tweets, Khuthi revealed that she is in fact a writer.

The Star newspaper picked up the story on Twitter and published it without verifying it with either the hospital, father, boyfriend or the police. The Star, after realising the story was a work of fiction, told News24 that it had been left ‘red faced’.

Kevin Ritchie, The Star’s Editor, told News24 that

“We are red-faced and not happy with this at all. We are doing whatever we can to learn from this because this is not the journalism we pride ourselves on practicing… it is a huge lesson for us and the [media] industry.”

Ritchie further said that the fake story highlighted important issues about “Journalism 101”.

“It slipped through on deadline last night [Sunday], and we did not do the most basic check of all, which was calling the police [to confirm the information],” he said.

Read more: 11 of the most viral hoaxes in internet history

After the story was proved to be fake, Twitter users responded to the story with mixed reactions. Some have berated the Khuthi but some have pointed at its too familiar details with stories that are true.

This is far from the first time Twitter has been used for fiction. The social has reinvented the way stories are shared and writers share their stories. The novelist Teju Cole, for instance, has curated fiction on Twitter and one can find short stories that are limited a few words being utilised at any given time. The Star was simply fooled by a piece of good fiction.

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