Wireless customers with AT&T, Cricket Wireless, T-Mobile, and Verizon all reported outages across the country this morning. And just like clockwork, some folks online pounced on the disruption as evidence of a global conspiracy.

Alex Jones, arguably America’s most popular conspiracy theorist, believes the telecom outage is a direct result of Chinese hackers.

“Is it a cyber attack? AT&T is being very tight-lipped,” Jones insisted in a web broadcast on Thursday in his typical “just asking questions” style.

In fact, even people who aren’t known conspiracy theorists were bringing up the apocalyptic Netflix movie Leave the World Behind, causing the title to trend on X.

“Predictive programming from the Netflix movie ‘Leave The World Behind,’” a prominent X account that shares QAnon conspiracy theories wrote on Thursday.

“No internet. No phones. No going back to normal,” the account continued, echoing the movie’s promotional tagline.

And while that really is how the movie is promoted on Netflix, there’s no evidence this outage is “predictive programming,” a term used by some conspiracy theorists to explain how speculative fiction sometimes accurately predicts events in the real world. In the real world, sometimes artists simply predict events because they’re because they’re lucky or have a good handle on things likely to happen in the future.

Leave the World Behind movie stars Julia Roberts, Ethan Hawke, and Mahershala Ali, and follows two families as they try to navigate the world after a mysterious attack, possibly by a foreign adversary, destroys modern technology like cellphone service, internet access, and TV broadcasts.

Believe it or not, the movie was already a popular movie with people who might have a screw loose. Why? It was executive produced by Barack and Michelle Obama, who have a producing deal with Netflix. The Obamas figure prominently in baseless conspiracy theories that hinge on a worldwide network of pedophiles controlling the world and that Michelle Obama is transgender. Not to mention the birther conspiracy theory, an idea that President Obama wasn’t born in the U.S. which President Donald Trump helped spread.

But it wasn’t just conspiracy theorists who were comparing this outage to Leave the World Behind. Apocalyptic movies work by tapping into our greatest fears for the future. In this case, the movie did a good job of making viewers feel like they weren’t sure what was happening. And when it’s difficult to get real information—as it obviously was for the characters in the movie—several conflicting narratives can start to spread, including rumors about who or what was actually causing the communications breakdown.

We use movies like Leave the World Behind as cultural touchstones—a shared shorthand when something scary or unjust happens. If the movie is popular enough, it makes sense and everyone instantly knows what you’re getting at, like when the Syrian refugee crisis hit Europe in 2015 and people were comparing the horrific photos that were emerging to the 2006 dystopian film Children of Men.

Other times the meaning of a film requires a lot more interpretation, like when I argued in 2018 that Bird Box, the Netflix movie starring Sandra Bullock, was the first great monster movie where the unseen horror was social media. But whether it’s Bird Box or Leave the World Behind, we clearly live in an era of incredible unease around technology. We’re all staring at our phones and other screens for hours each day and none of this “connection” is making us feel any more connected to other humans.

It’s that alienation that can drive many people further into conspiracy theories in a vicious cycle that’s enticing for its simplicity. But why would President Obama help make an entire movie about a plan to disrupt communications and then actually carry out that plan? Apparently in the minds of conspiracy theorists, guys like Obama are all villains in a James Bond movie who tell you their entire plot before they carry it out, giving the hero just enough time to save the day.

Again, there’s no evidence that anything happening with today’s telecom outage is anything but a normal service disruption. But if you start seeing hundreds of self-driving Teslas piling up with no humans inside, then you can start to worry.

Update, 9:50 p.m. ET: AT&T has released a statement to explain that today’s outage wasn’t a cyberattack.

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