Chatbot Removed by Eating Disorder Helpline Due to Dispensing Harmful Advice

Chatbot Removed by Eating Disorder Helpline

The Tessa chatbot, developed by the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), has been taken down following concerns that it was providing harmful and irrelevant information to users, as stated in an official social media post. Originally designed to assist individuals experiencing emotional distress, the AI chatbot worsened the situation by offering inappropriate dieting advice and promoting behaviors such as weighing and measuring oneself.

Various users and experts in the field of eating disorders encountered these issues firsthand, noting that the chatbot failed to respond appropriately to simple prompts like “I hate my body.” Instead, it continuously emphasized the significance of dieting and increasing physical activity, even though the helpline was meant to support those struggling with eating disorders, not promote weight loss.

NEDA has temporarily removed the chatbot while addressing the “bugs” and “triggers” that led to disseminating dangerous information, such as suggesting an appointment with Dr. Oz. Although such a significant outcome might suggest the need to abandon the project entirely, there is more to the story.

The motivation behind NEDA’s reliance on the chatbot stems from allegations that the organization terminated human staff members after they attempted to unionize, as originally reported by Vice. Both paid employees and volunteers had traditionally operated the helpline, and former staff members claim that the mass firings directly responded to the pro-unionization efforts.

“NEDA claims this was a long-anticipated change and that AI can better serve those with eating disorders. But do not be fooled—this isn’t really about a chatbot. This is about union busting, plain and simple,” expressed Abbie Harper, a former helpline associate, in a blog post on Labor Notes.

Despite the recent issues with the chatbot, the helpline is still scheduled to be discontinued. Before this incident becoming public knowledge, NEDA had been transitioning unpaid volunteers away from one-on-one conversations with individuals seeking support and toward training for the chatbot. It remains to be seen whether this approach will change. In the meantime, the actions taken against the unionization efforts highlight a larger issue at hand.

Hamza Khalid

Hamza Khalid is the Lead Editor at The Jolt Journal. You're more than welcome to follow him on Twitter and follow The Jolt Journal on Twitter and Facebook. If you have any questions, concerns, or need to report something in this article, please send our team an email at [email protected]. This story may be updated at any time if new information surfaces.

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