Apple said it is investigating an incident where a woman in China was reportedly electrocuted when using her iPhone. The device was supposedly charging at the time, though details are scarce.
At the heart of the report is a tweet, or rather a post to Weibo, a Twitter analogue that is very popular in China. The sister of Ma Ailun, a 23-year old flight attendant from the Xinjiang region, Weiboed that the woman collapsed and died after using her charging iPhone 5.
According to Reuters, that went viral on Weibo and was picked up by the state-owned Xinhua news agency in China. Apple issued a statement offering the company's corporate condolences and promising to investigate the issue and cooperate with authorities.
"We are deeply saddened to learn of this tragic incident and offer our condolences to the Ma family," Apple told Reuters in an email. "We will fully investigate and cooperate with authorities in this matter."
What's lacking is any sort of confirmation that Ms. Ma died, that she died while using her iPhone 5, or whether the iPhone had anything to do with her death. In that this is the first report of such a death with hundreds of millions of iPhones in the wild, this smacks of instant-urban legend, conclusion without cause, or better yet, a whisper campaign.
Apple has been the target of an orchestrated campaign of harassment from the Chinese government for months. That government has employed state media, state-owned companies, government regulators, and Chinese celebrities to criticize and attack Apple.
Which is not to downplay the tragedy of Ms. Ma's death or the loss to her family and friends. It's just that there have been no cases of iPhone-related electrocution to date and it doesn't seem likely now.
If the iPhone was defective in some way, Apple will have a problem on its hand, both in terms of public relations and the problem of addressing the malfunction. If the iPhone wasn't involved, it will still have a public relations nightmare to manage as the story lives on in popular culture.