Meaning-Making and Rumour-Mongering in the Shadow of Terrorism: The Case of the Charlie Hebdo Attack in Paris


  • Petra Pelletier
  • Ewa Drozda-Senkowska


The January 7, 2015 Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack in Paris shattered French civilians’ sense of security and also their sense of the surrounding world. This quasi-longitudinal study investigates the temporal dynamics of meaning-making and rumour-mongering processes of French civilians (N = 161) in a real-world, post-terrorist context. The present study was conducted via questionnaire at three points in time (i.e. one week, one month and two months) following the January 7, 2015 terrorist attack in Paris. In line with the social stage model of collective coping with disasters (Pennebaker & Harber, 1993), the main results suggest that participants’ coping process of searching for meaning decreased progressively over the two-month period. However, participants’ finding the presence of meaning as an outcome did not differ across time. Moreover, participants’ belief in rumours and official information was stable over the two-month period. Such findings point to the importance of considering the temporal perspective in order to provide a better understanding of laypeople’s symbolic responses to terrorism.