A few days ago I read an article about a woman who had been raped and left for dead in South Africa. It was reported by a friend through a series of messages on Twitter. However, it was a fake. The woman in question does not seem to exist.
Interestingly though, rather than instigating a backlash against the poster, a debate was raised about the plight of young women in South Africa. All I can say is, if that was their aim, I commend them wholeheartedly. Stories come in many shapes and sizes, from thousand page novels which can pass for bricks through to nano fiction barely a few words long.
Episodic storytelling is nothing new, after all, that was the original format for Sherlock Holmes, but it does fit Twitter and other short forms perfectly. In fact, Twitter’s small size demands you chop out the rubbish. What was also fascinating to see was that the journalists were hoodwinked too.
News such as this cannot be taken at face value, you could end up accusing the wrong person for example, but how often does it happen? Being a journalist is nothing more than a different form of writing. You find a story and make it into something people want to read. Headlines must grab attention, even if they are not strictly true.
Sensationalism is abhorrent to me, but it clearly has a followed. In this case though, it raised the story to a new level. It worked not just because it was convincing as a story itself. It was also convincing because of the real world setting. South Africa has an issue with rape and social media has brought the topic to the fore. Used like this to highlight a cause, I applaud sensationalism.