It would be extremely embarrassing in its own right to, as the CEO of a buzzy AI startup, get caught bragging about pledged charity donations that you never actually made. And it would surely be exponentially more embarrassing to try and debunk that rumor by hastily making said unfulfilled donation after already being called out, and poorly photoshopping payment receipts to cover up that fact.
A ridiculous situation? Absolutely. But this, as detailed by Techdirt, may well be the exact situation that AI-powered "robot lawyer" startup DoNotPay's founder and CEO, the headline-friendly Joshua Browder, appears to have found himself in.
As Techdirt explains, Browder's series of unfortunate events started roughly a week ago, when a paralegal named Kathryn Tewsen called Browder out on Twitter for what appeared to be pretty glaring errors in his company's tech. Online prompts designed to help users were questionable at best, and Tewsen, someone well-versed in legal jargon and proceedings, very easily poked a lot of holes in the AI tech's understandings of law. (Not a great look for a "robot lawyer.")
Tewsen noted these findings in a very detailed January 24 Twitter thread, which quickly picked up some viral steam. Shortly thereafter, Browder announced that his AI lawyer's first live court case, which was allegedly to take place in February, had been postponed — because, he claimed, he'd been threatened with jail time. For now, he said, DoNotPay would bring its focus back to consumer rights cases and away from "distracting" cases like divorce proceedings.
The DoNotPay website, meanwhile, no longer allowed users to "test documents," a feature that Tewsen had discovered significant flaws in. Suspect timing for, well, all of this, to say the absolute least.
Tewsen, per Techdirt, now convinced that the whole thing was more or less a publicity stunt to begin with, decided to investigate another pretty major Browder claim: that he according to a November 2022 Twitter post would buy and forgive $10 of medical debt for every "[retweet] + follow" earned by that tweet — and post receipts.
Receipts were never posted, so Tewsen decided to inquire (on Twitter, of course.) Browder responded pretty saltily.
"Yes, I did donate," he wrote back, an image of a payment receipt to the nonprofit organization RIP Medical Debt in tow. "Not sure why you are criticizing a donation."
That receipt, importantly, was marked as being paid on December 2, 2022, a few weeks after Browder's initial medical debt hype tweet. And as it turns out, the tech CEO did make a donation. He just didn't make it when he said he did.
"I have no reason to believe that Josh faked his donation to the debt-relieving nonprofit RIP Medical Debt," the paralegal tweeted, upon the realization that the image looked very, very photoshopped.
"But based on this?" she continued, "I don't think he did it on December 2, 2022."
And sure enough: in an email reviewed by Techdirt, RIP Medical Debt confirmed to Tewsen that Browder had indeed made a $500 donation, but he'd made that donation on January 29 — just four minutes after Tewsen had called him out for failing to follow through with his cash-forward publicity stunt. Browder's shoddy photoshop work was tweeted just 17 minutes after that.
Browder has unsurprisingly deleted the tweet promising to pay medical bills. And at the end of the day, this is, again, all astonishingly ridiculous — but also a little infuriating, given that this guy has raised many millions in funding cash from top-dollar VCs, including Marc Andreessen and the folks at Founders Fund. Not exactly genius moves on Browder's behalf, and we should probably all expect more from the people raking in this kind of investor interest.
Maybe, just maybe, we should be a little more skeptical of genius wunderkinds who just say whatever on Twitter.
READ MORE: DoNotPay's CEO Appears To Modify Donation Receipt After Being Called Out On Unfulfilled Promise [Techdirt]
More on DoNotPay's "court case": Startup's Plans for Robot Lawyer Nixed after CEO Threatened with Jail