Best Buy is apologizing today after a tweet offended followers. The tweet made reference to the Serial podcast, which has been called the top podcast of all time, and has also stirred some ethical questions.
If you’re not following the Serial podcast, you may not understand how anyone could be offended — of course Best Buy doesn’t sell pay phones. When have you even seen a pay phone lately, right?
Here’s the thing: Serial follows the story of Adnan Syed, convicted in the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. Adnan was convicted in part on the testimony of his friend Jay, who said that, after the murder, Adnan called him from the pay phone at Best Buy. One of the reasons that’s discussed for doubting Jay’s testimony, and by extension, Adnan’s guilt, is that there don’t seem to be any records of the Best Buy in question having a pay phone at the time. Photos of the Best Buy shortly after the case don’t show one, employees of Best Buy have told Serial host Sarah Koenig they don’t remember one, and the local phone provider at the time has no records of one.
None of this proves conclusively that there was no pay phone. (In fact, Redditor saxsolos says that her husband and father-in-law are, respectively, current and former employees, and that both remember a pay phone. She provides the photo below, of panels where the phones once hung, as evidence that a phone was once present.) The point here is that the pay phone, or lack thereof, in the Best Buy has become a major discussion point for Serial podcast followers, and obviously has a great deal of significance for those involved.
Whether there was a pay phone, though, Best Buy using the reference to a murder that has become high-profile a decade and a half later to sell electronic goods clearly struck some as inappropriate, and customers let Best Buy know they weren’t too happy with it.
Best Buy saw their error, and quickly issued an apology.
We deeply apologize for our earlier tweet about Serial. It lacked good judgment and doesn’t reflect the values of our company. We are sorry.
— Best Buy (@BestBuy) December 11, 2014
After customers responded to the apology, asking Best Buy to remove the offending tweet entirely, the store followed through and deleted the original tweet with its reference to Serial.
The ethical concerns about the Serial podcast have been debated extensively. The Atlantic is just one of many publications that debated the question — is it ethical to turn a real-life murder into a story, told week by week, to an audience hanging on every word? Though the retelling of true-life stories, including those of tragedy, and the debate of the facts of mysteries (even those that are officially declared solved) is a human pastime, the effects of the publicity on Lee’s family, and on Syed’s family as well, can hardly be denied.
Incidents like this Best Buy tweet demonstrate how easy it is to forget that the story is not an entertaining fiction, but the events in the lives of actual people, and that they can still be affected by it.
[Photo credit: JeepersMedia]