Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Electrocuted by iPhone: Is bride-to-be death by cellphone a hoax?

Electrocuted by iPhone: Is bride-to-be death by cellphone a hoax?, Electrocuted by iPhone is the claim being made by one family after a 23-year-old woman was electrocuted and died while using her Apple iPhone 5 while it was recharging. Although the story has its origin in China and multiple stories cite Xinhua, the official national news agency of China, as a source for the initial story, the details of the horrific story has all the makings of an urban legend -- a hoax.

Here's the gist of the story, as reported by UPI on July 15, a report that cited Xinhua as the source of its information. A former Southern China Airlines flight attendant, Ma Ailun, was talking on her iPhone 5 this past Thursday while it was recharging. She was electrocuted, dying from the administered shock. She was making wedding plans.

Ma Ailun's family said she was electrocuted. The story noted that local police agreed but would not confirm whether or not the iPhone was the cause of death.

Ma Ailun's older sister caused a media storm by posting the following on social network website Sina Weibo (comparable to Twitter), causing a firestorm of activity on the site:

"(I) hope that Apple can give us an explanation. I also hope that all of you will refrain from using your mobile devices while charging."

The woman's brother also noted that Ma Ailun was believed by the family to have been killed by electrocution. The family turned over the iPhone and its accessories to authorities for investigation.

And although everything might appear to be on the up-and-up and could very well be a true story, the story reads like an urban legend that one receives via email on occasion.

Snopes.com, a site that investigates, dissects, and verifies urban legends and hoaxes, has a listing for cell phone shockings and deaths by electrocution (not necessarily an Apple iPhone) called "Overcharged." The common thread in these hoaxes is that the victims were electrocuted by cell phones. The two examples used to showcase the online hoaxes indicate that the shocked victims are dead.

The emails have the same basic elements: A philanthropic narrator telling the story of a death via electrocution by cell phone, the victim is a good friend or relative, and there are the somewhat credible authority figures quoting facts and figures and/or issuing warnings.

These are all foundational factors necessary for a believable urban legend. The story out of China has all the ingredients as well but with far more credibility as more and more details become available. The grieving family. The borderline plausible story about the possibly defective iPhone. The philanthropic warning to others to not use a charging cell phone. And there's also the part of the story that always draws one into the hoax, the hook: In this case, it is that the young woman electrocuted by the iPhone is planning her wedding. It even has Apple delivering a public statement where the company will investigate the matter and cooperative with authorities looking into the woman's death. It is all capped off with the heartfelt plea of Ma's sister pleading that nobody else use their cellphones while they are charging.

Of course, none of this actually means that the story of Ma Ailun is a very well-orchestrated hoax or the latest edition to the death by cellphone urban legend, but it does give one pause for thought when considering that major news organizations have in past year fallen victim to reporting satirical stories and faux news generated on the Internet.

Snopes has noted the Xianjiang electrocution but also states that the story has yet to be confirmed.

Still, dying by electrocution by cellphone is nearly impossible. Experts say that nearly all cell phones, including the Apple iPhone 5, generate between 3 to 5 volts. A human won't even register a shock unless the voltage reaches 36 volts. However, with electrical outlets pushing upwards of 220 volts in China, bad wiring in the woman's home, a defect in the charger, or something causing the charger not to be grounded could conceivably cause a shock, perhaps even fatal electrocution.

At eHow.com, the suggestion is that getting a cell phone wet while charging it could possibly result in electrocution. And then there is always the chance of being struck by lightning while on the phone. Otherwise, it is an implausible scenario due to the plastic casing of all cell phones and to the low voltage issued by them.

So don't be surprised if, after Apple conducts its investigation of the bride-to-be being electrocuted by one of their iPhones, they conclude one of two things: The report was an elaborate hoax or, if the story actually pans out as authentic, the woman in question was electrocuted due to problems with the house wiring, a grounding problem, a third-party (non-Apple) charging device, or a factor introduced by the dead woman or a third party (water being the most likely in this scenario).
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Title: Electrocuted by iPhone: Is bride-to-be death by cellphone a hoax?
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