FactCheck Social Media

Deceptive video on using mobile phone while charging gets plug pulled

2021-05-19 11:49:45

The Statement

A social media post warns people against using their mobile phones while charging based on a video that purports to show proof of the device becoming an electricity “transmitter”.

The April 19 Facebook post features a man using what appears to be a non-contact voltage tester, which begins flashing and making a sound when brought near a mobile phone charger or connected phone.

“Watch what happens when I plug it (the mobile phone) in. It becomes a transmitter for electric (sic). Look at how far it transmits it. So if you’re lying in bed with that next to your head, that is all going into your head,” the man in the video warns.

The post, by a New Zealand user, includes the accompanying text: “Warning! When charging your phone do not take a call!” The post had attracted more than 260 shares and 5500 video views at the time of writing.

The same video was also posted on TikTok, where it had been shared more than 44,000 times, drawing more than 176,000 reactions. A similar video on YouTube has been viewed more than 133,000 times.

A Facebook post
 A Facebook post warns against using a mobile phone while charging. 

The Analysis

The video demonstrates the presence of an electric field near a charging phone, but experts say this is no cause for alarm. All mains-powered electric devices would demonstrate similar properties, and this does not mean they are unsafe to use.

Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) assistant director of assessment and advice Ken Karipidis told AAP FactCheck the flashing device used in the video appears to be a non-contact voltage tester, however it did not show there were dangerous electromagnetic fields (EMF) coming from the mobile phone.

“Any electrical source, including common household appliances and electrical wiring, emits EMF,”  he said in an email.

“There is no established scientific evidence that the EMF we are exposed to in our everyday environment causes any health effect.”

Dr Karipidis added that it was considered “safe to use a mobile phone, or take a phone call, while the phone is charging”.

Swinburne University of Technology Department of Health and Medical Sciences chair Andrew Wood, an expert on the biological effects of EMF, agreed there was no danger in using a mobile phone while it is charging – and any exposure to EMF would be brief.

Prof Wood said the electromagnetic field detected in the video would likely be similar to that emitted from other common appliances.

“Probably the same would happen if they did the same for any device connected to the mains via an adaptor, such as Christmas tree lights,” he told AAP FactCheck in an email.

While some studies have pointed to a link between high-intensity EMF and common childhood cancers, overall findings have been inconclusive, according to the US National Cancer Institute. Studies on lower-level exposure from household electrical appliances have not found any consistent evidence of potential harm, it said.

Dr Karipidis said research that showed a possible association between EMF and leukaemia in children dealt with exposure levels usually only found in homes very close to electricity infrastructure such as high-voltage power lines.

ARPANSA’s webpage on EMF radiation also states that magnetic fields from electrical sources such as computers and other appliances were low-level and were not associated with any health effects.

A World Health Organization fact sheet on EMF and mobile phones says that following “a large number of studies” over the past two decades “no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use”.

The research has largely focused on mobile phones’ functions as low-powered radio transmitters and receivers. Radio waves and extremely low frequency EMF, such as those produced by electrical appliances, are forms of non-ionizing radiation that have different wavelengths.

A previous fact check on a similar video found warnings against using mobile phones while charging due to leaking voltage were misleading and there was no risk from their electric fields.

A boy looks his mobile at the desk for charging
 There’s no scientific evidence a charging mobile phone has negative health effects, experts say. 

The Verdict

The video misleadingly implies that the electrical field produced by a charging mobile phone may be harmful. In fact, these fields pose no risk to people’s health, experts say. It is low intensity, similar to those produced by other household electrical appliances.

Missing Context – Content that may mislead without additional context.

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