Yu Tian

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communications


Lars Willnat


Affective political polarization;Fake news;News-finds-me;Social media;Third-person perceptions

Subject Categories

Communication | Mass Communication | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Anecdotal evidence suggests that overconfident citizens can easily be deceived by fake news. Despite the wealth of literature vested in scrutinizing the factors and processes underlining vulnerability to made-up news, limited effort has been made in this line of reasoning in the communication field. To fill this research gap, in this study, I underpin the theoretical tenet of third-person perceptions (TPP) as a cognitive bias and view TPP as a proxy to reflect the erroneous overconfidence that one is fake-news-resistant, while others are fake-news-impressionable in a post-truth era. As a cognitive fallacy, TPP bias presumably undermines individuals’ motivations and abilities to deliberate on and discern fakeness, which gives rise to the belief in fake news and its viral spread in digital worlds. I further propose two antecedents of TPP bias in the realm of fake news. First, an emerging news-obtaining pattern labeled as news-finds-me (NFM) is posited as a media antecedent, which reflects the shifting journalism landscape where newsreaders do not actively seek information anymore and believe that they are well-informed because the news will “eventually find them” via social media. Second, affective polarization in the current tribal and divisive politics is raised as a socio-political antecedent to cultivate self-serving optimism in fake news impacts. Additionally, hinging on the echo chamber thesis, I expect a mutually reinforcing relation between NFM and affective polarization. Drawing on data from a national online sample (N = 1,014) matching key demographic variables in the U.S. Census (i.e., gender and age), the results show that TPP bias significantly increased perceived credibility, which then drove trustworthiness-based sharing of fake news, corroborating TPP fallacy as an important mechanism to explain fake news susceptibility and engagement. Furthermore, NFM was positively correlated with such overestimated relative self-invulnerability to false news, which led high-NFM respondents to believe and share fake news compared to their low-NFM counterparts. Lastly, the associations between (1) NFM and affective polarization and (2) affective polarization and fake news vulnerability were non-significant. Possible explanations regarding homogeneous interactions, social media platforms, and questionnaire descriptors are discussed in the context of my study. Theoretically, this research serves as an interdisciplinary attempt to bridge the gap between NFM, TPP, and fake news literature to understand public vulnerability to fabricated news and the mechanisms through which it is believed and spreads. My findings contribute to the emergent NFM literature by broadening NFM’s implications for news evaluation and engagement. They also add to the TPP literature by calibrating its conceptual thrust as a cognitive bias and extending its behavioral outcomes to information processing. My study also provides an up-to-date view of U.S. news consumers’ fake news vulnerability and sheds light on TPP bias as an alternative explanatory mechanism. Evidence-driven practical implications for social media literacy education, fact checks, algorithms, and general journalism are discussed from reader-, producer-, and platform-oriented perspectives.


Open Access

Available for download on Friday, September 12, 2025