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Why SNL's 'the bubble' sketch about news polarization is all too true

The Brooklyn-like city encased in a bubble mirrors the real-life 'news bubble' many Americans have attested to finding themselves in.

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    In The Bubble, life continues for progressive Americans as if the election never happened.
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Leave it to “Saturday Night Live” to hold up a mirror to the “news bubble.”

“What if there was a place where the unthinkable didn’t happen, and life could continue for progressive Americans just as before?” cast member Kyle Mooney asks in the skit that aired Saturday.

“The Bubble is a community of like-minded thinkers – and no one else,” adds Shasheer Zamata.

Though the city encased in a plastic bubble is fictional, it offers real-life criticism of the echo-chamber that left-leaning Americans are concerned they have been enclosed in. In part driven by the mainstream media’s incorrect election predictions and alarms over fake news and unreliable information spread on Facebook and Google, Americans on both sides of the political spectrum have started to question how they receive their news and the circles with which they surround themselves. But many have also started to seek out news from a more diverse variety of sources. 

In satirizing this bubble, SNL is further calling attention to it. In the parody ad, cast members Mr. Mooney and Ms. Zamata describe a Brooklyn-like city surrounded in an actual bubble. Those living there can connect to the outside world through websites such as The Huffington Post, Daily Kos, and Netflix documentaries about sushi rice, they say.

“We’ll be fine right here in the Bubble,” says Mooney. “It’s their America now,” says Zamata.

In the two weeks following the election of Donald Trump, SNL has subtly critiqued how many left-leaning urban dwellers were stunned by the results. Last week, black comedians Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock shrewdly warned a room of their white liberal friends on Election Night that Mr. Trump could come out on top.

The skit starts with Cecily Strong’s character saying, “we're about to have our first woman president, like, this is going to be a historic night.”

"It might be a historic night, but don't forget it's a big country," says Mr. Chappelle.  

As the Christian Science Monitor’s Harry Bruinius reported, “a number of Americans, particularly those on the left still bewildered by the election of Mr. Trump, have begun to question the mainstream coverage that seemed to confidently assume that Hillary Clinton would emerge as the 45th president.”

“At the same time, too,” continues Mr. Bruinius, “the proliferation of unreliable information has approached what many consider to be near-crisis proportions. In addition to the frustration many have felt with the mainstream press, there is growing concern social media, designed to entice engagement rather than offer factual information, has spawned the viral spread of deliberately misleading and fake news.”

A fake news article, “FBI Agent Suspected In Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide,” received more than 8.7 million shares, reactions, or comments on Facebook, according to analysis from BuzzFeed News. Of the top 20 most-shared fake news stories, 17 spread information that favored Trump or excoriated Clinton.

On Monday, Facebook and Google said they would take action to combat such misinformation. Google said it would ban websites that trafficked fakes news from using its online advertising services. Facebook said it would also stop displaying ads from fake news sites.

But the problem appears to be as much psychological as it is the spread of false reports. As Vox recently reported, when we as humans are part of a group, we like to see that group in a positive light. This could then lead to an occurrence psychologists call  “confirmation bias,” in which we seek out facts and news sources that support ideas we already believe to be true.

“Our number one bias is to make ourselves feel good. It just feels bad to be wrong, to lose. So we avoid it at the cost of reckoning with the truth,” writes Vox's Julia Belluz and Brian Resnick. 

But some Americans have taken steps to expand how they gather information. Americans interviewed by the Monitor have testified to buying subscriptions to news sources considered more center-right such as The Wall Street Journal or planning to follow Fox News in addition to The New York Times.  

In fact, the New York Times reported an increase of 41,000 subscribers since the Nov. 8 election, its largest one-week total since it developed its paywall model in 2011. The Atlantic and The Wall Street Journal are among other publications that have also reported surges in readership and subscribers since the election.

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