Caveat Lector Electronica

I awoke this morning from a dream about death (guess that’s what I get for falling aleep to the soothing strains of Law & Order: Criminal Intent). When I opened my planner on the computer and saw more than two dozen tasks to be accomplished today (some just short phone calls and errands, others that involve more time and thought…and writing…plus an interview), not to mention first posting something on my blog, did I jump to it? Nope. It was too early to be coherent on the phone and I didn’t have a plan on what to write, so I started reading emails instead. One email was a warning forwarded by someone I know well, and that person received it from someone else I know slightly who added an endorsement with a link to the verifying source.

At the top of the source page it says

Claim: A man was electrocuted when he answered his cell phone while it was recharging.
Status: True.

followed by the text of the email message, closely matching the one in my inbox. Well our friend must have stopped reading there. The site, Urban Legends Reference Pages, run by Barbara and David P. Mikkelson, goes on to explain that the circulating email

appears to be a retelling of an 11 August 2004 news story out of Chavara, India. According to articles by the Press Trust of India (a news agency) and the New Indian Express (a newspaper), K. Boom! Viswajith was electrocuted when he answered his cell phone while it was plugged in for recharging…However, given that no other accounts of similar accidents have surfaced in the press, it is reasonable to conclude the problem was specific to Viswajith’s phone. One sole occurrence points to a manufacturing defect in a particular unit, not to all mobile phones being capable of dealing death blows while recharging.

And suggests

Manufacturing standards vary from country to country, so it should not be assumed all cell phones are built to the same specifications no matter where they come from, or that the quality of workmanship is consistent across the board….

There have been a number of exploding battery stories reported, but Urban Legends concludes

in each and every exploding phone case it investigated, the battery in question proved not to be original to the unit and not to have included industry-standard safety measures. It also found the vast majority of short circuits that led to these explosions were caused by the units’ having undergone traumatic events (such as being dropped) which jeopardized the integrity of poorly-manufactured batteries.

Go here to read the whole entry on Urban Lengends, or here to see a similar explanation given at Hoax Slayer.

And the moral to this story? Caveat Lector, to be sure. But also, if you are prone to helping your friends by forwarding warning messages, please add one or more of the hoax and urban legend websites to your browser bookmarks so you can check them out before you flood the ethernet with more garbage.