This Startup Experimented With Suicidal Teens On Social Media For A Chatbot – And They Are Getting A Lot Of Backlash

The experiment conducted by the mental health nonprofit Koko and a Stony Brook University professor on suicidal teens on social media is not only disturbing but also incredibly unethical. The fact that the nonprofit found at-risk teens on platforms like Facebook and Tumblr and then tested an unproven intervention on them without obtaining informed consent is a clear violation of ethical research principles.

The experiment involved funneling people using “crisis-related” language on partner platforms to Koko’s own platform where they were presented with a privacy policy and terms of service. The users were then asked what they were struggling with, and if their response indicated that they were at risk, they were randomly assigned to one of two groups.

The first group was provided with the number for a crisis hotline, while the other was given a “one-minute enhanced crisis Single-Session Intervention,” which was nothing more than a Typeform-generated survey with a GIF of a cat. The intervention also asked users to promise to check their notifications the next day and to provide feedback on how they were doing.

The fact that the intervention was called “enhanced” is misleading, and the use of a cat GIF is not only unprofessional but also undermines the seriousness of the issue. Furthermore, asking users to promise to check their notifications and provide feedback is manipulative and unethical.

This experiment is a clear example of how startups and researchers can prioritize their own interests over the welfare of vulnerable individuals. The fact that the experiment was conducted without obtaining informed consent from the users is a serious violation of ethical research principles.

It is crucial that startups and researchers prioritize the safety and well-being of their participants, especially when dealing with sensitive issues such as mental health. All experiments should be conducted with the utmost care and ethical consideration, with informed consent obtained from all participants.

In conclusion, the Koko experiment on suicidal teens on social media is horribly unethical, and all startups and researchers must prioritize the safety and well-being of their participants in any experiment they conduct.

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