NEDA replaces eating disorder helpline staff with chatbot

Occurred: May 2023

The US National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) replaced the team of staff and volunteers manning a popular and reputable helpline with a chatbot, resulting in a backlash from NEDA employees and volunteers.

Under pressure from surging demand for eating disorder and 'crisis-type' advice, NEDA's helpline team had decided to unionise to ensure a safer and more productive work environment. They were fired four days after they unionised, though NEDA said the two were unrelated.

NEDA said it would replace the helpline and its team with 'Tessa', a mental health chatbot that the association claimed is an entirely new programme, as opposed to a 'replacement'. Initial evaluations of the new bot suggest it has some way to go before it is able to provide relevant, effective advice in an appropriate manner.

The new chatbot was taken offline two days before it was officially due to launch after it was found to be encouraging unhealthy eating habits rather than helping someone who said she had an eating disorder.

Operator: National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA)
Developer: Cass

Country: USA

Sector: NGO/non-profit/social enterprise

Purpose: Provide mental health support

Technology: Chatbot; NLP/text analysis; Neural network; Deep learning; Machine learning; Reinforcement learning
Issue: Employment - jobs; Ethics

Transparency: Marketing

Page info
Type: Issue
Published: May 2023