Eating Disorder Helpline Fires Staff, Transitions to Chatbot After Unionization

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From VICE: “Executives at the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) decided to replace hotline workers with a chatbot named Tessa four days after the workers unionized.

NEDA, the largest nonprofit organization dedicated to eating disorders, has had a helpline for the last twenty years that provided support to hundreds of thousands of people via chat, phone call, and text. ‘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,’ helpline associate and union member Abbie Harper wrote in a blog post.

. . . Harper thinks that the implementation of Tessa strips away the personal aspect of the support hotline, in which many of the associates can speak from their own experiences. ‘Some of us have personally recovered from eating disorders and bring that invaluable experience to our work. All of us came to this job because of our passion for eating disorders and mental health advocacy and our desire to make a difference,’ she wrote in her blog post.

. . . ‘We condemn NEDA’s decision to shutter the Helpline in the strongest possible terms. A chat bot is no substitute for human empathy, and we believe this decision will cause irreparable harm to the eating disorders community,’ the Helpline Associates United told Motherboard in a statement.”

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