John Dickerson's notebook: What we know that ain't so

Last Updated Apr 2, 2017 1:11 PM EDT

Will Rogers once said “It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.” 

That came to mind this week when the Senate Intelligence Committee heard testimony about Russian agents creating fake news to fool voters. Through social media, the lies got into the American bloodstream.

How do we stop this? We can go after the supply -- sanction the Russians, put in better filters and so on -- but the real problem is the demand. We want to believe stories that we want to believe. Studies show that when a person believes something passionately, contrary facts don’t change their mind, they make them double down.

Needing confirmation is not new. What’s new is number of self-soothing stories we can find that appeal to our emotions. They’re designed to appeal to our emotions. That’s how they get shared and how the trolls get paid.

This is killing our politics: emotions are aroused -- including fear -- and no one is budging. Scared and angry are not the starting blocks for agreement.

How do we stop it? The editor of Snopes, the website that helps you debunk urban myths your uncle emails you, has a rule: if a story arouses an emotional response in you, double-check it.” Or, as reporters say: “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.”

One last thing. Despite what the Internet may think, Will Rogers didn’t actually say that quote I started with. But it felt so right! Which is why we had to check it out.