Jessica Price Profile picture
Sep 13, 2021 142 tweets 23 min read Read on X
Welp, Paizo just fired their two most senior customer service people (one a woman, one a POC) for apparently being too willing to push back on abusive management.

Of course, this also means that the last person they might retaliate against for me airing dirty laundry is gone.
Featuring such hits as The White Woman Fighting Diversity Efforts But Claiming Credit When POC Manage To Do Them Anyway, The Time Paizo Was In Debt To The Mob, The Executive Who Sexually Harassed A Senior Woman Out Of The Company, and more.
Also, attempts to force workers to return to the office before it’s safe, managers lying about what their reports told them to pretend there’s support for it, demoting women for being too troublesome, the plan to “milk” demonizing mental illness until they couldn’t anymore, etc.
Also the marketing director saying, “maybe we don’t want to be positioned as the TTRPG company that supports diversity,” playing Pride against Juneteenth, what’s happened to the organized play team and more.
Oh, and normally I don’t criticize other women in the industry unless they’re C-level, but we’re going to talk about that toxic, abusive snake Tonya Woldridge because holy fucking shit should no one ever work with or for her.

Fuck whisper networks.
Can’t wait for the desperate Gen Con announcements of new ways to exploit players either.

The executives will scream at employees for pushing back against abusive customers, but don’t think that means that they actually have any love for their customers.
Anyway, not going to pull the skeletons out of the closet tonight, because I’m visiting family and trying to enjoy myself, but probably tomorrow.
Oh wow, apparently Jeff was too much of a coward to say he fired the customer service manager and told everyone she "left to pursue other options."

Like it wasn't enough that he was so spineless that he made a flunky do it right before Gen Con.
Jesus fucking Christ, I despise weak men in positions of power, and that's 95% of game industry leadership.
Okay, where to start. I mean, I have a million horror stories about the founders of the company, Vic & Lisa, such as Vic's violent rages that literally put a manager in the hospital...
Lisa's insistence that employees should not complain about anything, let alone that many of them could make more working at a fast food restaurant, because they should be honored to work on Pathfinder and willing to do it for free.
But honestly, there's not really a point since they're functionally retired now and not that involved with the company and I'd rather focus on the people who are still there.

Last I heard, they're focused on building their own private Star Wars museum.
That attitude about "employees should be grateful to have a job and never complain" did lead (and, I think, continues to lead) to some stuff that's probably in violation of actual laws/regulations. Like their refusal to actually clean the office.

oh, man, like this is hardly the most dramatic story, but it's pretty emblematic of the culture.

So a number of people on my team were having asthma problems in the office.
It was bad enough that they were going outside--in the spring, with the pollen--to calm their lungs down.

And I regularly cleaned and dusted the copy room and the editorial area, but like, a day later it would be just *covered* in dust again.
And there was visible dust coming out of the ductwork.

So we went to Mona and were like, "hey, this place is filthy and it's noticeably impacting people's health to the point where they're having trouble working. How often is it cleaned? Maybe it needs to be more often?"
Mona: oh, well, the janitor doesn't vacuum because he has a bad back.

Me: uhhhh so when was the last time it was cleaned?

Mona: I don't know, probably before we moved in.

Me: ...the place hasn't been vacuumed in SEVEN YEARS?
And he kind of shrugged. And I was like, "Um, can you get some cleaning people in here?"

He told me to talk to Jeff, because facilities was Jeff's domain.

So I went and talked to Jeff. He told me it was too expensive.
So finally one of the devs and I came in during the weekend. I brought my vacuum, she brought her carpet shampooer, and we cleaned the place the best we could.

It destroyed both my vacuum and her carpet cleaner.
So I went to Mona and was like, "look, your people CAN'T BREATHE. I tried to clean and it destroyed my vacuum. If you won't bring in a cleaning service, can you get us a vacuum that'll stand up to being used here so we can at least clean our own spaces?"
And he was like, no, I think our insurance prohibits employees from cleaning.

So, just to review:
-place has not been vacuumed in 7 years
-employees are having asthma/allergy attacks
-no, our existing janitor won't vacuum
-no, we won't hire someone who will
-no, you can't do it
So, I went back to my team and was like, ok, they won't hire someone to clean and they won't let us do it, and I'm pretty sure this is some sort of OSHA violation or something, so let's all email the finance/HR guy and tell him the dirt's making us sick and they need to clean
And this whole time, I was getting this annoyed bafflement from every exec I talked to, like, "I don't care if your team is wheezing, get them back to work, why are you bothering me with this?"

So anyway, a bunch of us emailed the HR/finance guy simultaneously.
And lo and behold, money was found to bring in a professional carpet cleaning service.

I don't think they did the ducts, but at least it was better than it was.
The HR guy, when I passed him in the hall a few weeks later, told me he knew it was me behind "the stunt with the emails."

I was like "...okay...?"

like, no shit, Sherlock, I signed my name and everything
And I got a heaping helping of resentment directed at me from the execs for a while after that.

As always, I was pretty baffled by this. It was literally my job to make sure our products shipped on time, to try to make the team work as smoothly and efficiently as possible.
And it seemed self-evident to me that people who can't breathe can't work.

So as far as I could tell, not only was I absolutely behaving within my job responsibilities and mandate, but I would have been remiss if I HADN'T pushed to get it fixed.
Like, I was literally *protecting the company's best interests.*

But the executive team was so resentful of employees asking for *anything* that they acted like I was doing the opposite, by--again--asking them to clean the carpets more than once in seven years.
And again, I'm not naive. I know that HR people aren't there to protect the employees, they're there to protect the company FROM the employees.

But, like, preempting some employee suing the company for wrecking their health, or reporting them to OSHA, IS protecting the company.
But there was just this incredibly childish attitude from the exec team, like, "No, you're going to BREATHE that dust because WE decide when the place gets cleaned."
And again, this isn't a terribly dramatic story. It's petty and it's silly and it's boring.

But it is one of the best indicators of the exec team's attitude toward their employees: their willingness to destroy the company's own productivity to prove THEY'RE in charge.
And I think it's also emblematic of the Stockholm Syndrome of the employees. Like, we just wanted to be able to WORK, and we were willing to come in on weekends, use our own equipment, whatever, just to WORK.
Like honestly, imagine having employees so dedicated that whenever there's a problem with something that isn't even CLOSE to their area of responsibility, they try everything they can--including using their off time and own money--to solve it themselves.
And imagine having a fix that is so simple, and so cheap, and so AHEM LEGALLY REQUIRED to improve your employees' productivity, and not being willing to do it because you're offended that they had the temerity to ask you for anything.
But Lisa Stevens had this idea that if things weren't shipping on time, it wasn't because we were under-resourced, even when employees were in crunch mode year-round.

It was CLEARLY because the team was sitting around in hammocks with their feet up.
And so in our meetings, she'd rail about the need to "find the cancer."

The "cancer" being the employee(s) that weren't working hard enough.

Imagine referring to human beings who work for you like that.
And it's not like this attitude has gone away just because she's basically retired.
And it plays into their attempts to force people to return to the office prematurely. There was a ton of "well, people aren't being productive when they're working from home because we can't WATCH them all the time" rhetoric.
Nevermind that CS burned through its immense backlog while working from home.

As usual, you have very talented workers who just need management to get out of their way while they make the company money, and incompetent management who insists they can't be trusted.
That "how dare you ask for anything?" attitude carried through to pretty much every aspect of working there.

Creative staff was required to be active on the Paizo forums. We repeatedly requested a block function for abusive posters, and the execs were offended by the request.
Now, to be fair to the execs, perhaps it would have been difficult to institute a block function on the janky, difficult-to-update website, but we couldn't say, update to a modern forum system because one of the lead programmers gets royalties off the current version.
And given that there are multiple user-created hacks out there for the Paizo forums providing a block function, it can't have been that hard.
So yeah, let's talk about Mona. I actually feel sorry for him in some ways. While I was there, he and Jeff were in constant competition for who would be named heir and inherit the throne of this tiny little nerd hill when the queen and king finally stepped down.
And all that refusal to stand up to them, all that throwing people under the bus, and when it came to it, he wasn't the chosen one. Jeff won. Talk about selling your soul for literally nothing. (That'll be a recurrent theme here.)
So yeah, he's a slippery MF who talks out of both sides of his mouth and is far more concerned with looking good than BEING good, but I do feel a little bad for him.

Not that bad, though, given his penchant for basically being GOB Bluth.
(He would come back from company-paid trips to NYC and brag to his overworked employees making less than half of what it takes to live austerely in Seattle, about his $3000 Varvatos suits that he bought while there.

Literally GOB Bluth.)
So yeah, throughout my time there, we tried to explain to Mona that he controlled the means of production, and actually had a TON of power, and could maybe stand up for his team, and Mona kept insisting he was basically powerless.

Weak men in positions of power. All over.
But I do feel kind of bad for him given that he was the one exec who usually seemed more stressed out than offended when employees asked him for things.
However, I don't feel THAT bad for him, for a number of reasons. So he's super-into Victorian occultism.

A number of you are already cringing because you know where this is going, and I want you to know I see you and salute you.
And there are ways that this played out, as far as interactions with employees, that are pretty gross. I'm not going to spend a ton of time on them, because I'd rather focus on how it affected the PF content itself.

However, one emblematic story.
(Like, there was a lot of posting of pics of Victorian occult books he got on his FB, and people being like "uhhh that's a swastika" and him really not wanting to hear about how seeing their boss posting this shit made LGBT/POC/Jewish employees feel.)
But the emblematic story here is he was very interested in Theosophy, and especially all this "Ascended Master" stuff. Eventually he got a big portrait of Ascended Master Saint Germain and put it in his office.

I think it was this one, or at least it was similar. Image
If this is making you very uneasy, yes, correct, you should be. If you're like "is that an Iron Cross above his head?", why yes, yes it is.

so this came out of the I AM movement, which drew its membership from the Silver Shirts, who were the American version of the Brown Shirts
And so a number of us were like, "hey dude how about you take that thing home and not have it sitting in your office staring at us while we meet with you?"

he hung it above his desk.
he also got very into the manasaputras, if you remember them…

it comes from this:

we had to take out a bunch of crap about each manasaputra representing a different race because boy howdy, did that get ugly in a hurry
he did not take kindly to suggestions that "hey, theosophy is SUPER racist so maybe let's not put quite so much of it into our game?"
fortunately, the editors were generally the last people to touch a book before it went off to the printers and managed to scrub most of the gross stuff out
so you know, this was the best and most empathetic of the executive options to go to with problems
This is also the guy who, when we were doing Horror Adventures (the book I almost demanded my name be taken out of the credits for multiple times)...
...when his team was like, "hey, maybe we shouldn't be doing mechanics for mental illness and saying some forms of it make you CE? like maybe instead of a madness mechanic we could just do a stress mechanic?"
was like "I figure we've only got 3 or 4 more years before it becomes too politically incorrect to do madness stuff in our books so we need to milk it while we can."
Also the one who, when I pointed out that I was sure it wasn't intentional sexism, but the female developers we'd just hired were having to start with "assistant" titles despite running entire product lines, and were offered lower starting salaries than male devs...
responded "well, maybe we just won't hire any more women if they're going to complain all the time."
Again, and I cannot emphasize this enough, this was the most empathetic and least terrible executive. Like, this was the *best choice* to whom to take problems.
Yup. Seriously, even Paizo's freelancers were trying to rein him in:

As far as Jeff, well. Jeff was the guy we were supposed to go to if we got harassed/groped/assaulted/whatever at PaizoCon.

Jeff was also the guy who, when he had to work with a relatively senior woman (I don't know if she was an FTE or consultant) he didn't like...
...bullied her so much she eventually quit. The bullying included, among other things, some pretty questionable "gifts." One was a compact with a picture of a naked Medusa on it. He told her he saw it and it reminded him of her.
Another was a holiday card with a picture of a vibrator on it and a note that she needed to "relax" or "loosen up" or something along those lines.
So this was the guy we were supposed to go to if we were harassed or assaulted.

His advice, at pre-convention all-hands meetings, was "try not to put yourself in a situation where you might get harassed or assaulted."
And then Lisa would chime in with, "and remember, you're there to make sure the attendees have a good time."

I don't know how you read that in any way OTHER than a suggestion that being harassed/assaulted was part of our jobs.
Now, some of you who haven't been paying close attention over the past 4-5 years are probably saying "hey, wait, what? I thought Paizo was the good TTRPG company? they're super progressive on LGBT stuff!"

the answer is, of course, complicated
No company's monolithic. WOTC's done some great stuff, and also some really not great stuff.

And yes, in general, even Paizo's execs have been pretty sympathetic to LGBT issues, or at least LGB issues.
They published some very good trans representation when it was way riskier to do so, for example.

That was the work of @AmazonChique, and it got protected and pushed through by Wes.

But Paizo execs have a habit of being, at best, skeptical of those efforts.
And often of actively punishing employees who push inclusion, then turning around and accepting the public accolades when they're well-received.

So, like, yeah, Paizo has published some really great, inclusive stuff, and often has been the first large company to do so.
And I think it was maybe less awful back in the very early days, and maybe the execs were a little less cowardly, because I do want to give Lisa credit for being willing to publish a gay paladin and his husband in Paizo's very first adventure path.
That was, of course, Wes's work, and every bit of it was very careful (not just inclusion of a gay character, but a gay *paladin*, the class you literally can't be unless you're lawful good, thereby insisting that being gay wasn't just tolerated, but compatible with strict good).
But I do want to give Lisa credit where it's due for greenlighting it, because while today that's no biggie, it was considerably riskier when they published it, especially given that the company was new and tenuous and needed the 3.5 audience to survive.
But like a lot of TTRPG people from that era, the Paizo execs kind of went, "hey, we did that, and isn't that enough, and we're not so sure about a lot of this other stuff" and got kind of resistant to newer and younger devs pushing forward on other inclusion fronts.
And it's gotten grosser in recent years. This past year they pushed back hard against a Juneteenth blog because they didn't want a focus on Black history and issues to "take away" from Pride.

Which is, you know, an ENTIRE MONTH.
Sorry, all of this is basically just CONTEXT for more recent goings-on but I gotta take a break because it's fucking exhausting and depressing.
Yup. That'd be Jeff, to be clear. The person we were supposed to go to if we got harassed or assaulted.

Correction: CS manager was fired, second most senior CS employee quit in solidarity with her:

That’s rich, Erik, given that you were one of the people that got drunk at Gen Con, told me all about the magazine industry’s mob connections, and that time the company borrowed money from them. If that’s inaccurate, you can look in the mirror for the source. Image
There are many reasons I generally limit how much I drink at cons, and most of them are about not feeling safe around shitty gamer men, but remembering what drunk executives say is another one.
I can’t wait to hear about how your hanging literal memorabilia from a white supremacist occult society in your office is misinterpreted.
And oh, boy, Bulmahn. Bulmahn hit, as far as I can tell, on every woman in the creative department who wasn't in a relationship. So, in the beginning, despite his reputation for being difficult to work with, I had a good working relationship with him.
And the execs expressed some surprise, but hey, none of us were going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Then Bulmahn propositioned me. I turned him down as gently as I could, and he apologized and I was like, "oh good, that could have gone so much worse."
He was awkward and avoidant at a social event the same weekend, but I was like ok, it is a little awkward, but he seemed cool in his response so I'm sure it'll be fine.
Almost immediately, however, I began having trouble getting information out of his department (given that I was managing the production schedule, this was a problem).

Finally, Mona and I went to talk to his team while he was out of town.
His team told us Bulmahn had instructed them not to talk to me, give me updates, etc. They did not know why.

Mona expressed his disappointment to me that what had seemed like a good working relationship with Bulmahn and his department had somehow gone south.
I contemplated telling him what had happened, but the two of them are close friends and drinking buddies, so I didn't really feel comfortable. And after all, the only "proof" of a connection that I had was timing.
At least I was spared the unsolicited dick pics he's sent some other women in the industry.
And, as promised, let's talk about Tonya. So Tonya started out doing some sort of organized play coordination thing. It wasn't a creative job, but since organized play was otherwise within creative, she started coming to meetings.
Her presence in meetings was always a little strange, since she would talk as if the organized play devs reported to her. They did not.

But hey, not my circus, not my monkeys.
Then she started telling us that hey, if development was behind, she could develop scenarios.

We tried to explain to her, as kindly as possible, that adventure development was actually a very specialized skill set and not really something we could just hand off to anyone.
But I wanted to maintain a good relationship with her, and hey, being a woman in TTRPGs is tough. So when I created a private support group for women in the tabletop industry, and invited a bunch of women from different companies, I also invited her.
And, like, among the various types of venting/advice asking/etc. going on in there, of COURSE several women from Paizo vented about stuff with Mona. It was, after all, a secret, private, space for support and venting.
Tonya screenshotted the conversation and took it to Mona.

You always wonder, when someone does something like that, what exactly they hope to get out of it.
We should have known that she was very much a Company Woman.
Most of the rest of this is coming from other people, since after that, I had as little to do with her as possible, other than to warn most of the other women at the company not to share anything in confidence with her.
But I heard a ton from organized play people about her protecting abusive volunteers because she was friends with them or they did work for her.
She insisted that she needed an assistant, and then created a bunch of work for herself (which ALWAYS creates work for other people, in this case the organized play devs, who she dragged into a lot of pointless meetings without agendas) to justify having an assistant.
She actively opposed and attempted to quash the Paizo diversity blog. After an employee of color went and did it anyway and it got positive reception, she attempted to claim credit for it.
She also insisted on editing some of the entries and put a bunch of shit in there that can most charitably be described as "tone-deaf."

The actual editors, of course, managed to get it edited out before it went live.
So, this is who got put in charge of the CS department, over the actual CS manager, because apparently Jeff thought the actual CS manager challenged him too much.
Her first initiative was to try to force the CS department to return to the office. She claimed they were inefficient and needed to be in the office to be efficient (despite the fact that they'd cleared their backlog and were functioning fine).
She did not provide any concrete examples of their supposed inefficiency. She met with each of them, and when they told her they did NOT want to return to the office yet, she reported up the chain that they were cool with returning to the office.
In her quest to make them more efficient, she insisted on daily meetings with no agenda or point to them.

She also wanted to institute quotas, despite the people who actually do the job explaining to her that this was not a good idea.
Oh, and speaking of the diversity blog, when one of the employees was pushing for doing a Juneteenth blog and being told they couldn't take a day away from Pride month to talk about Black history
when the employee said to the marketing guy, that he thought they needed to do better because Paizo had been coasting on its reputation for being an inclusive company for a while, the marketing guy told him "well, maybe we don't want to be positioned as that company."
Let's see, Tonya criticized one of the CS people (who, btw, was NOT a manager) for having a "management style" that was "just let the employees do whatever they want."

Which, yes, when you have hired skilled people and they are doing their jobs well, you let them do their jobs.
It reminds me of the time I got dinged in a Paizo review for being "more of an employee advocate than a company advocate."

Those two things are the same thing at a healthy company, you numnutzes.
And then there's the hiring stuff. So, you wouldn't think Paizo's had much turnover in the past few years, going by public job postings.

That's because they've largely just been moving people internally or hiring people they know.
So back in the day, Wes and I came up with a developer test that allowed us to evaluate applicants anonymously to help counteract bias.
That was how we ended up hiring Amanda, Crystal, and Linda, btw. They blew the test out of the water, unlike a lot of experienced industry guys we probably would have assumed would have been better at it if we hadn't anonymized.
Well, after we were both gone, the design team apparently decided that was too much work. They made a big public thing out of how they wanted to hear from all the voices, then decided that evaluating them was too much work & just went with someone internal who didn't test for it
they also hired some people who'd been freelancing and told them they had to move to WA during the pandemic for tax reasons

which is fascinating, because they have employees outside of WA state
Oh man, I have so much more, but it's going to get repetitive. I feel like this is a pretty representative sampling, and a lot of the other stuff is awful, but is stuff execs said outside of work when they were drunk that doesn't necessarily bear directly on work.
I mean, there is other stuff, like how they try to tank any personal-brand building for creatives that aren't from the Mona/Bulmahn/Jacobs era; like they seem to view it as competition.
(They tried to tank the three women who worked for them that got nominated as Industry Insiders at Gen Con being able to actually accept, for example, and at one point told employees they couldn't go to any cons unless the company sent them.)
But, y'know, I gotta get in a less angry headspace for Yom Kippur, so I think I'll leave it here at least for now. Might add stuff if I remember (or am told) additional stuff that's relevant.
Anyway, snatch up the people they most recently fired/forced out. Like most of the frontline Paizo workers, they're gems who've been underpaid forever and you should jump on the chance to get them.
One more thing: any time stuff about abusive game companies comes out, there’s always a lot of back and forth about whether to boycott.

I can’t tell you what the right thing to do is. I’m not sure there IS one.
I can tell you that company management tends to love it when the response to their abuse being revealed is “we can’t boycott because that will hurt the workers.”

Their victims become their human shield.

But it’s also true.

It’s a crux I don’t know how to resolve.
Like my inclination is always “hit abusive companies in the only thing they care about: their wallet.”

But it’s true: that risks layoffs, etc.
You can also reach out to them about job opportunities, or point recruiters to them.
Having slept on it, one more thing to say (and I'm going to RT with this): I think the main source of so much of current and former Paizo employees' anger about this is that doing better for most of this stuff is literally free.
Like, I don't think anyone takes a job at Paizo thinking they're going to get rich working there. We know how slim the margins are in tabletop, we know it's not a big company.

And don't get me wrong, the very low salaries certainly contribute to the pressure-cooker environment.
But at the end of the day, not berating, belittling, and humiliating your employees is free. Not using them as punching bags for your anger management issues, your own stresses, and your insecurities is free.
With the exception of a very few examples, like cleaning the office, nothing I've talked about here would have cost anything to do better.
And with that, I think I'm done. The people still at Paizo that I care about seem to be in positions where they're largely left alone to work in their own corners, and I'm hoping that since the last person I knew who was suffering there is no longer at the company...
...and having purged all the stuff I've been sitting on all these years, I can just be mentally and emotionally done with the place.
It has always been a double-edged sword: I met a lot of the best people I know there--

--and most of those people have a lot of scars from working there.
And if I had it to do over again, I would still take the job, because I met so many people I love there.

But I would have left a LOT earlier and stopped hoping and believing any of us could make it better.
At the end of the day, what still infuriates me and breaks my heart is that there's no reason making games has to be this brutal.
I also want to say, if Pathfinder is special to you, if it helped you, if it was a safe place for you to be and grow and imagine, that is real and legit and none of this changes that.

It was made by people who loved it.
And whether you keep playing it or find other games, I hope you continue to find joy in gaming.

But I would also urge you to remember to love worlds and experiences, and not companies.
And for those wanting to support current and former Paizo staffers, the only link I have handy right now is Diego's Patreon, but I'll post more if I get them:…

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Yeah, the thing about diversity is it doesn’t mean any particular way of being is superior full stop. Different ways may do better in *some circumstances.*

Being different from the norm can feel superior because your way of being is *underutilized.*
The thing you learn if your brain doesn’t work like the standard, when you dig into how the world isn’t designed for you, and then apply what you’ve learned about yourself to observing other people?

There are no normies.
Everyone is a mosaic, and I don’t think there’s any one of us for whom every last piece fits the standard.

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So, don’t take it from me: take it from someone with a PhD: the way we conceptualize “religion” means that the only religion that exists is Christianity (and *maybe* Islam). (Thanks, @maklelan !) (1/x)
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As I keep saying, the religious/secular distinction is a Christian framework, and it is—sometimes explicitly, sometimes unacknowledged—a tool of colonialism.
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We sacrifice a lot of things that might make us happy to pursue happiness proxies.
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So—and this is not about Jamie Foxx, I’m not touching that one other than to point out that you should prioritize listening to Black Jews over anyone else on it—let’s talk about why the figure/story of Judas is antisemitic by itself, and why that’s so invisible to most Christians
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Read 17 tweets
Aug 7, 2023
The Kokobot thing is SO dark and like, I don't wanna be an AI doomer (there are some things that (human-supervised) AI can do better than humans without AI! we're just not doing much of that for some reason) but this is literally the only thread talking about this I found. (1/x)
And hey, it's from someone who follows me! That makes me feel sort of warm and fuzzy about the sort of people who follow me!

But also, wow, tweets in this thread have maybe one like each, which tells me very few people read it. So READ IT, and I'm going to elaborate on it.
So. Kokobot.

A mental health nonprofit decided to run a mental health experiment on users between the ages of 18 and 25 without their knowledge or consent, having a bot contact them if they were using "crisis-related language."

Beyond that, things start to get muddy
Read 37 tweets

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