In the weeks and months after the attacks of September 11, 2001, there was an image that circulated heavily online, mostly via email. It showed a man who appeared to be standing on the observation deck of one of the World Trade Center towers. Pictured over his right shoulder was the nose of a jet. A tourist had captured a photo of one of the highjacked airplanes moments before it struck the tower, the story went, and the camera found in the debris at Ground Zero was all that remained.
The photo was doctored, a digital joke made by the man pictured. It was also one of the first in a wave of widely shared urban legends and hoaxes about the attacks that have rippled across the web since 2001. Over the years, 9/11 has remained a focal point for conspiracy theorists. “The bigger the event is, the more conspiracy theories that are going to surround it,” said Joseph Uscinski, a co-author of the book American Conspiracy Theories. “With the JFK assassination, you have conspiracy theories lingering forever. 9/11 is going to be the same thing."
A 12-minute video that’s making the rounds this week claims the 1985 film Back to the Future contains a coded message warning of the 9/11 attacks. The gist of this theory: Twin Pines mall, where one of the movie's main characters is attacked by terrorists, is meant to represent the Twin Towers. (There's also something about how film is a portal to transcendence.) The name of the group that made the video, Apophenia Productions, seems appropriate. Apophenia refers to the tendency to perceive a pattern among unrelated or random ideas or objects.