All humans and animals rely on communication with others just to survive, let alone have a comfortable life. If this communication is sabotaged in any way, the results can be devastating for both sides of the party, simply because everyone wants to believe that their message went through unscathed and that the other person can and will respond. Nobody wants their letter to be stolen in the mail, nobody wants their call to be interrupted by a passing storm or cut wire, and nobody wants to be manipulated by someone else masquerading as their intended correspondent.
In this sort of situation, the communication isn't ruined by one of the parties themselves, like with Poor Communication Kills; instead, it's ruined by an outside force, whether it be a freak act of nature, a being with malicious intent purposefully causing trouble, or even just the result of the chosen messenger running into trouble and being unable to deliver the message. Similarly, it can occur between two people and a third party, or one person attempting to get a message out to the entire world, only to be prevented.
In this way, this trope can count everything from inconvenient and spontaneous signal jams, to a malicious third-party getting in the way.
This trope has several subtropes:
- Impeded Messenger: The messenger fails to deliver the message.
- I Never Got Any Letters: A character's messages to another are outright hidden by a third party.
- Lost in Transmission: Technical difficulties result in a sent message being incomplete.
- Manipulative Editing: Editing the original work so heavily the real message is lost.
- Quote Mine: Someone uses only portions of an original statement for their own benefit.
- Recorded Spliced Conversation: Passing off a modified recording of an individual as genuine.
- Translation with an Agenda: A translator changes or ignores the intended message, for their own benefit.
- Trolling Translator: A translator mistranslates something for the lulz.
- Twisting the Words: An originally innocent message is twisted to make the speaker look bad.
However, while the act is more often than not malicious, it can sometimes be done by the protagonist in a desperate situation, and can even be portrayed as good if it's the villains affected by the communication struggle. In wartime scenarios, this can be necessary to give one side an advantage, as pragmatic as it may be. Finally, the result may be anything from wacky hijinks ensuing, to evoking a strong sense of isolation, and anything in-between.
It also has a lot of overlap with Cut Phone Lines, Forged Message, and The Radio Dies First. Contrast Poor Communication Kills, where the communication failure is due to the character's own flaws, rather than any outside influence. This can be invoked by tropes like Fake Static and Cutting the Electronic Leash.
Finally, this is Truth in Television.
- In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex episode "MARTIAL LAW", Section 9 steals a military helicopter to sneak into Dejima just as the Self Defense Forces impose a complete communications blackout. Chief Aramaki tries to convey a message just as it happens, but the last part of it gets cut off.
- In My Hero Academia, 1-A's attempts to call for backup from U.A. are impeded by the machinations of the League of Villains, forcing 1-A to create an opportunity for Iida to run back to get The Cavalry.
- Played with in the first issue of The Avengers, where the Teen Brigade attempt to radio the Fantastic Four to find the Hulk. Loki, who is attempting to pit Thor against the Hulk, uses magic to intercept and redirect the signal so Thor gets the message instead of the Fantastic Four. However, he messes up and the rest of the future Avengers (Iron Man, Ant Man, and Wasp) get the message as well. This directly creates The Avengers.
- While traveling aboard The Hindenburg (1975), the Countess plays cards with Napier and Pajetta, a pair of CardSharps who fleece the gullible on luxury cruises. The Countess quickly deduces their shenanigans, as well as their signal system. She discretely edits these signals so that it's their wallets that get drained, rather than hers.
- Our Man Flint. After the GALAXY organization delivers its Do Not Adjust Your Set disarmament ultimatum to the nations of the world, they jam worldwide airwave communication (such as radio).
- Saturn3 has the captives Adam and Alex try to radio their distress to the Mile-Long Ship that has come to check on them. However, their pleas are blocked by the mad robot Hector, who mimics their voices precisely, and tells the ship that all's well. The reply is a cheery "See you in six months," and The Cavalry departs none the wiser.
- Occurs twice in The Terminator:
- Sarah Connor tries to issue a warning to her roommate Ginger by phone, but the killer robot has already liquefied her. Instead, Sarah's message to the answering machine reveals to the terminator that he's killed the wrong target, and that Sarah Connor is at a downtown dance club.
- Sarah is hiding out at a motel, and decides to phone her mother (of course). Sarah is careful not to divulge her location, and leaves only a phone number. The terminator has already visited the mother's house and slaughtered the occupants, anticipating Sarah's call. It mimics the mother's voice, then calls back to learn where Sarah called from.
- The Thing (1982). After the Antarctic research team discovers that they've been infiltrated by the title alien monster, they try to make contact with the outside world to warn them but can't because radio contact has been cut off by bad weather.
- The Demon Breed: The Parahuans have the ability to jam human communicators. They've been gradually building up the interference for months, to make people think it's a natural phenomenon.
- The Expanse: This is a major issue throughout the series, due to the simple physics of reality. Light cannot travel faster than c, and therefore neither can radio transmissions. So, light-delay must be accounted for when sending messages across the infinite void of space.
- The plot of Jackdaws centers around the use of a team of female saboteurs to destroy a German telephone exchange in occupied France shortly before D-Day. The reasoning behind targeting the exchange is that with the exchange destroyed, the German military would be either unable to coordinate troop movements to make a counterattack, or would be forced to use communications such as radio messages which could be more easily jammed or intercepted.
- We All Died At Breakaway Station is a science fiction thriller that centers on a communication relay station that can route messages across interstellar distances in minutes rather than years. During the war between humans and the alien "Jillies," this station was ravaged, but is still functional. One last desperate stand is made at this relay station: the aliens aim to sunder it before Earth spies can transmit the location of the Jillie homeworld to Earth Command.
- The Bionic Woman episode "Doomsday Is Tomorrow" has an Air Force bomber en route to drop a cobalt bomb on the Elaborate Underground Base. A spotter for OSI sees Jaime Sommers emerge alive and well, and the recall code is issued to the bomber. The A.I. Is a Crapshoot computer, however, wants the bomb dropped to create massive radioactive cloud. It beams the "404 = continue mission" code to the bomber, which is stronger than the "808 = abort and recall" code.
- House of Anubis:
- Late in season 1, Alfie helps out the Sibuna gang by going into the cellar, while the others converse with him over walkie-talkie. He leaves the walkie behind and Jerome picks it up, pretending to be Alfie, which gets Alfie into trouble when the others think he's done and leaves while he's still down there. Jerome then uses this to manipulate Alfie into helping him.
- In season 3, Nina has disappeared without warning, and Fabian is a mess trying to figure out why. He discovers she sent Eddie a letter, and he goes to get it...only for this letter to have been written by Eddie and Jerome. Fabian realizes it immediately, and it only makes him get angrier, coming to the conclusion that Eddie and Nina had an affair over the summer. Eddie, however, wasn't doing it maliciously, but because he really lost the original letter.
- When Alfie notices that Amber has been getting calls from her dream fashion school, he tries at first to keep her away from her phone, so that she doesn't talk to them and get into said school. When he realizes how selfish this is, however, he tells her the truth.
- Occurs frequently on Star Trek to keep the Enterprise from contacting Starfleet Command for back up, or to keep an away team from contacting the ship. Causes range from enemies stealing or destroying their communicators to aliens jamming their hailing frequencies to subspace interference from the Negative Space Wedgie of the week.
- In Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown both Osean and Erusean forces, at the height of the battle for Farbanti launch anti-satellite missiles hoping to cripple the other side at the same time not realizing that they had the same idea. This doesn't only take out military satellites but civilian ones as well due to the debris field it creates. This brings global communication to a halt and leads to massive infighting on the Usean continent. With Radical and Conservative Erusans, independent forces and the Oseans fighting each other (sometimes with themselves due to IFF not working) all sense of order is gone until the final battle when all of the latter join forces to fight the Radicals.
- Most large outposts and military installations in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain have communications equipment that the player can destroy (typically with explosives, though they can be shorted out in a more stealthy fashion with the Water Pistol). While this doesn't disable communication between units in the outpost, it prevents the outpost from raising the alert level of, or requesting reinforcements from, other nearby outposts if the player is spotted, at least until the equipment is repaired several in-game days later.
- Payday 2 allows players to bring ECMnote Jammers as part of their arsenal. Among their many useful features is that the Jammers block attempts from guards and civilians to raise the alarm by calling for backup or the police for the duration of their use (though it doesn't work for manual triggers, such as panic buttons during the Bank Heist missions, laser tripwires, or alarm-wired display cases).
- Presentable Liberty: The main character is constantly being sent letters from people he cannot respond to, about problems he can't solve. Being stuck in a small room alone, the inability to reply underscores the unfortunate situation, while the characters on the outside are left to wonder if their letters are even being read at all.
- Units in Sid Meiers Alpha Centauri can be equipped with the "Comm Jammer" ECM upgrade; this makes a unit have a more effective defense against a "mobile" land-based attacker (rovers and hovertanks).
- Ben Drowned: Jadusable's efforts to communicate his problem to people on the internet are disrupted by BEN, to the point where a good chunk of the posts are full of false information, and things Jadusable said being outright removed, just to mess with Jadusable's head and fool the audience.
- Don't Hug Me I'm Scared: In Episode 5, Red Guy keeps trying to contact Duck Guy, via the use of a telephone on set. However, every time the Duck Guy tries to answer, the antagonists of the episode take over, making it impossible for him to actually get the message. One such moment has the phone being turned into a sandwich in the next scene, confusing him and making it even harder to break free.
- On this blog discussing the technologies of Sid Meiers Alpha Centauri, the writer discusses just how important communication is in mobile warfare, and exactly why using a comm jammer on a mobile enemy could have such a devastating effect: https://paeantosmac.wordpress.com/2015/08/17/technology-advanced-subatomic-theory/
- The SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Naughty Nautical Neighbors": SpongeBob and Patrick are communicating with bubbles that contain their voices. Squidward, whose house is between theirs, gets annoyed and secretly sabotages their messages by using his own bubbles that say mean insults to them. This causes Bob & Pat to hate each other for the episode.
- A major component of electronic warfare is attempting to disrupt, sabotage, or distort enemy communications.
- North Korea regularly jams South Korean propaganda broadcasts aimed at North Korea.
- While East Germany was unable to jam West German broadcasts in the same manner (doing so would cause West Berlin to also be jammed, resulting in all kinds of diplomatic incidents), they did change their TV standards to SECAM instead of the PAL system used elsewhere in Europe so that East German TV viewers would be unable to see West German broadcasts in color. In addition, there was a corner of southeastern East Germany that was beyond the transmission range of Western broadcasts; this area was called the "Valley of the Clueless"
- A major cause of the Franco-Prussian War was the infamous "Ems Dispatch", which was heavily edited by Otto Von Bismarck to inflame German opinion against France, and then mistranslated into French, causing France to declare war.
- Subverted with the infamous "Russian Woodpecker", a transmission from the Soviet Union which caused shortwave radio listeners to hear a series of tapping sounds over broadcasts, which was thought to be an example of this (others theorized even crazier possibilities, like it was being used for weather control and/or mind control); in reality, it was a long-range threat detection radarnote whose usage happened to interfere with shortwave radio because of the wavelengths and frequencies used.