Sun, Feb 17, 2019 - Page 3 News List

Commissioner’s chat bot replies ‘not bad’ to suicidal resident

By Chang Tsung-chiu and William Hetherington  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

A Changhua County man who messaged the official Line account of County Commissioner Wang Hui-mei (王惠美) saying that he wanted to kill himself was shocked when he received “That’s not bad” in reply.

County confidential secretary Chen Po-tsun (陳柏村) on Friday told reporters that Wang’s office no longer managed the account and that a chat bot had been used to answer messages.

A chat bot is an automated software program that generates a reply in the absence of a human user.

The county office apologized for the insensitive response and had disabled the bot’s automated response function, Chen said.

Future messages would not be answered, but only marked by the system as having been read, he added.

The man, surnamed Wu (吳), said he had felt hopeless taking care of his two ailing, elderly parents and turned to the county’s Department of Social Affairs for help.

On Jan. 19, Wu called the department to ask for help in obtaining long-term healthcare for his father, who has cancer, and was given information on options provided by the county’s Public Health Bureau.

Unsatisfied with the response, Wu reached out to Wang via her official Line group, unaware that the account was not being monitored. After receiving the chat bot response, he showed the message to local media.

The conversation shows Wu saying he has something to tell Wang and the bot replying that he should ask whatever he wants.

The responses seemed strange and did not quite match his questions, Wu said.

Toward the end of the interaction, Wu says he wants to end his life and the bot replies with “That’s not bad” and “Let’s work together in the future to make things better.”

Chen said that after the incident, the office debated whether to close the account, which has more than 10,000 followers, but decided to keep it open with the automated response function disabled.

The account has been made invisible, he said, adding that new users cannot join, but old users can still post to the account.

Asked about the account, Wang said she was not aware what conversations it held, and that it had only been used during her campaign before the nine-in-one elections in November last year.

Changhua County Department of Social Affairs deputy director Chen Su-chen (陳素貞) said the department gave Wu information about long-term care services, helped him apply for them and sent him NT$6,000 before the Lunar New Year to help his family.

Wu’s mother has already received long-term care resources and the bureau was seeking approval for the family to receive breathing equipment and other resources for when Wu’s father leaves the hospital, the bureau’s long-term care division director Chiu Tsui-jung (邱翠容) said.

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