The 999 Phone Charging Myth: A Silly Semi-Myth Indeed
Don't Bother Trying This at Home
You may not have heard of this myth, but Wikipedia has already summed it up rather succinctly: "The 999 phone charging myth is an urban myth which claims that if a mobile phone has low battery then dialing 999 (or any regional emergency number) charges the phone so it has more power." They add, "This was confirmed as a myth by several British police forces who publicly cited the dangers of making such calls."
There's a related myth that iPhone's Siri will direct someone to emergency services if you tell it: "Charge my phone to 100%," as further evidence of a link to such services and a battery power boost.
Why is this myth potentially dangerous? Well, quite obviously, it could lead to people falsely calling "999" (or 911, the American equivalent) for non-emergency use. In some instances, that diversion from an actual emergency could mean the difference from life or death. While authority is not always to be trusted, this is definitely an instance where the authorities (that is, the British government) is most certainly correct. Yes, we live in a world where crises and emergencies can lead to governments gaining too much power (such as George W. Bush wanting unitary executive power “to defend the country in times of crisis and emergency.”)
However, being able to get someone to the hospital is still important, isn't it? So, if you want to charge your phone, why not do it the easy way and use a phone charger?
How Widespread is This Myth?
Honestly, I'm not aware of how common this theory is. It definitely doesn't seem commonly believed, but it's been out there. St the very least, it's popular enough that numerous Youtube videos that address it (like this one). While this myth is barely even worth examining, there are explanations.
The myth has origins in a Blackberry feature. When a Blackberry's batteries are low enough, all calling features are shut down except to emergency services. This apparently led some users to think calling emergency services would magically charge their phone batteries. This is akin to both a myth and a prank, and puts undue strain on emergency response networks, who legally (and perhaps ethically) have to issue a followup response to all logged calls.
This Youtuber says that it's "almost true," noting that Blackberry's lock down "emergency calls-only" mode moderately boosts the battery, as would be practical if one is to make such a call. Still, that would be more of a "barely semi-true," because your battery will still be low. As a long-term strategy, it just does not make sense to try this. Now, I'm personally not a punitive guy who believes in locking people up for falsely calling emergency numbers, but it's nevertheless not intelligent or wise. Hoaxes.org says: "The only way to boost a mobile phone battery is to use a charger.”
Possible Reverse Psychological Effect
There's a bit of a conundrum in the modern world which complicates this story: Such myths will likely persist BECAUSE officials deny their legitimacy. Similar to cults who benefit from a sense of persecution, there are always true believers who believe something harder because (in so many words) "That's just what THEY want you to think, man!"
Like many such things, it's not necessarily true that, because discreditation is repeated so often by media and police, that the myth is not believed any more. It probably is. Still, it's unlikely that most people abuse a given emergency service. On top of that, an emergency text system might reduce the amount of time wasted addressing pranks over the phone (or on might freely assume, if such services are becoming more common).
This is another phenomenon demonstrating how people can believe anything. Granted, it's not as bad as, say, the Tide Pod challenge, but it's also far-fetched and impractical right out of the gate. Common sense dictates: You should only call an emergency service during an actual emergency. Remember that old tale called The Boy Who Cried Wolf? Well, this is something like that. Plus, let's face it: You can probably get in trouble for doing something like this. It's just not worth it.