Kidnapping WhatsApp – Rumors during the search and rescue operation of three kidnapped youth

Tomer Simon, Avishay Goldberg, Dmitry Leykin, Bruria Adini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


During terror attacks, information with unknown credibility might circulate and people use rumors to compensate for information gaps. On 06.12.2014, three teenagers were kidnapped from a bus station in the West Bank and found dead after several days. A gag order was issued, causing interest in alternative sources of information. This study investigated how information spread through WhatsApp during the search operation using a participatory research approach. 13 rumors circulating on WhatsApp were collected, nine of which were verified, and found to be true. A web-based survey revealed that 61.1% of 419 respondents received information regarding the kidnapping through WhatsApp; 38.9% through Facebook. Sources of two rumors and participation of emergency authorities in rumor dissemination were identified. Some rumors originated from the family and community of the abductees, while other WhatsApp messages included information and names of two abductees, which were not public at the time. When emergency authorities share unconfirmed information, it is perceived as more credible than information spread by citizens. During the operation, official representatives did not correct or refute any rumors. Locating the source of a rumor is challenging and thus it is important to actively investigate rumors in real-time in order to locate the source.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-190
Number of pages8
JournalComputers in Human Behavior
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2016


  • Emergency management
  • Misinformation
  • Rumor
  • Social media
  • Terror
  • WhatsApp

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Psychology (all)


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