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Plan II Honors

Roger & Ann Worthington Essay Prize in Plan II

2017 Worthington Essay Contest

Grand Prize: $5000 -  Jay Anand
Second Prize: $2500 -  Hannah Heydinger
First-Year Prize: $3500 -  Mark Csoros

2017 Essay Prompt:

You’ve just been promoted to an executive position at Limacon, a large tech corporation. (Congratulations!) One of your company’s most successful products is a news aggregator app for smartphones and tablets. With Limacon’s Forager app, users can search for any news topic and receive results from thousands of media outlets. Recently, usage has shot up drastically. People seem to be making use of a feature in the app called “opposing views.” With this feature enabled, users can instantly find articles refuting, rebutting or responding to any story.

The app itself has become a controversy in the news. Editorials in several well-established newspapers and magazines have been critical of Limacon for giving users justification to be dismissive about any news story they find objectionable. As one New York Times columnist put it, enabling the “Opposing Views” feature in the Forager app is like “reserving a microphone at every debate for random hecklers off the street. A deeply-sourced story by a Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent in the Washington bureau is now juxtaposed with the conspiracy theory of a blogger posting from his home in Texas, as if these contradictory accounts are opposite sides of the same coin.”

Not all critiques of the Opposing Views feature have been negative, though. A recent article in Wired magazine pointed out that Forager had been the primary vehicle of circulation for blog posts that challenged several key facts in a story reported in the New Republic. Over the weeks that followed, other media outlets were able to independently confirm that the version of events in the New Republic story had been based on false claims from a key source. The bloggers had been right in this instance, and the New Republic retracted the entire story.

Polls indicate that a significant percentage of voters in the last election got their news primarily or entirely through the Forager app. An academic journal also recently published a peer-reviewed study conducted by social scientists, who found that, when confronted with news they didn’t like, a majority of Forager users said they felt more confident in the accuracy of the opposing articles than the original article, regardless of which media outlets had published the original article or the rebuttals. A separate peer-reviewed study, published in another academic journal, indicated that people who primarily get their news from Forager have more strongly held opinions about controversial topics such as abortion and gun control than people who get their news from television, radio or print media or those who have subscriptions to individual news websites.

Attitudes among the senior executives at Limacon are mixed. While nobody likes the bad press, advertising revenue for the app has never been higher. Several of your colleagues have said they don’t think the company should become the arbiter of truth and credibility among media outlets. Over lunch today, your boss gave you a new assignment.

“You’re the only executive officer here with a Plan II degree,” she says. “That’s part of what you bring to the table. So put that interdisciplinary education to good use and write me a thoughtful proposal. I’ll review your suggestions and take them into consideration when I make a public statement next week. I want to be able to announce how we’re going to redesign the app, and the reasoning behind those changes; or I want to able to announce why we’re not going to change the app, and provide a justification for why we’re leaving things as they are.”

In 2000 words or less, write a letter to the CEO of Limacon (your boss), and provide your suggestions. You should consider what will best serve the users of your product, what will best serve the company and what will best serve society.


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