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Nelson Mandela victim of Twitter hoax

Nelson Mandela, the enigmatic former president of South Africa, has become the latest victim of a hoax Twitter story announcing his death.

Thanks to the speed with which news travels these days (even if it's not true) Mr Mandela's apparent passing was the talk of the Twittersphere over the weekend.

The African National Congress (ANC), South Africa's ruling party, moved to quash the rumours and the Nobel Peace Prize winner's charitable foundation has also issued a statement confirming that he is very much alive.

While hoax death stories can seem harmless, on this particular occasion, the stunt appears to have been in rather poor taste, as Mr Mandela, who is 92, has had his share of health problems.

Even though he has withdrawn from public life, he remains hugely influential in South African politics, acting as a calming influence in a country facing huge socio-economic challenges.

There remain serious concerns about what might happen in South Africa when its first black president does finally pass away, making this latest Twitter hoax potentially very dangerous.

With this in mind, Twitter users joined the condemnation of the story, with the ANC statement getting regularly retweeted along with messages of support for Mr Mandela once the hoax was revealed.

This latest online death hoax highlights the power of social media and the damage that a rumour can do. Gone are the days when mischievous whispers were confined to coffee mornings or the local pub, with Twitter, Facebook and an army of bloggers, misinformation can go global in minutes.

Nelson Mandela was not the first victim of an online death hoax and he won't be the last. Here are some more public figures and celebrities who have "died" on the internet in recent years:

Justin Bieber – the teen pop sensation was pronounced dead on Twitter just a few days ago (January 2011)

Charlie Sheen – rumours were doing the rounds on various blogs that the troubled star of Wall Street, Platoon and Two And A Half Men had died in a snow-boarding accident (December 2010)

Adam Sandler – same month, same method of virtual death for the Wedding Singer (December 2010)

Paris Hilton – a fake CNN page had the web buzzing with rumours that the heiress and party girl had been stabbed in a Los Angeles jail (June 2007)

Kanye West – that that don't kill him just makes him stronger. Despite reports of a fatal car crash, Mr West is alive and kicking (October 2009)