The Truth Behind the Syrian Cell Phone Charging StoryS

Earlier this month PBS ran a story about an unorthodox method of phone charging that Syrian rebels were using. It sounded strange to us, so we tested it. It didn't hold water. Literally. So NewsHour followed up with the real story.

To recap: the video piece was produced by GlobalPost, originally appeared on PBS's NewsHour, and was subsequently picked up by The Atlantic amongst others. In the interview Syrian activist Omar Maqdad says that the way they charge their phones when the government has taken them off the power grid is that they put a couple of batteries in a glass of water, let them sit for 30-60 minutes, then put a USB cable into the water, and that charges it. Our tests indicated that was impossible. We reached out to NewsHour with our findings, and they started digging to see what was up.

The Truth Behind the Syrian Cell Phone Charging Story

They followed up with the segment's producer, who followed up with Omar himself. Evidently, what he meant to say was that they use a portable USB charger (similar to the one pictured), which is powered by AA batteries. They then put this charger into a large empty mug so they can carry it to protests and recharge on the go without arousing the suspicion of security by carrying bags.

"Omar was very upset and apologetic to know there were some question marks over his explanation. He said that though he wanted to give the interview in English he sometimes struggled with vocabulary to explain things in a concise manner. It seems he struggled for the word mug, and instead of 'glass of water' meant 'glass for water.'"

That sorta doesn't add up? I recognize that English isn't Omar's first language but watching the video (skip to 8:17 for the relavent bit) he clearly says, "...keep the batteries in the water for one hour or 30 minutes. Then you put the USB adapters inside the water and start charge." He doesn't seem to be reaching for the word "mug" or any other. He clearly says water, and his English really is pretty good. (I wish my Arabic was that good.) Further, there's no mention of the charging device at all.

I don't like publicly stating that this whole thing seems fishy, but it does! Maybe even more so than before. Well, anyway, we likely now know how they're actually charging their phones, even if we still don't really know why he originally said what he did. If you read PBS's full story be sure to come on back and let us know what you think. [PBS]

Image credit: News Hour


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