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Washington: Amid concerns the rise of artificial intelligence will supercharge the spread of misinformation comes a wild fabrication from a more prosaic source: Amazon’s Alexa, which declared that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
Asked about fraud in the race – in which Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump with 306 electoral college votes – the popular voice assistant said it was “stolen by a massive amount of election fraud,” citing Rumble, a video-streaming service favoured by conservatives.
An Amazon Echo Show 8 smart-home device powered by Alexa.Credit: Bloomberg
The 2020 races were “notorious for many incidents of irregularities and indications pointing to electoral fraud taking place in major metro centres,” according to Alexa, referencing Substack, a subscription newsletter service. Alexa contended that Trump won Pennsylvania (he did not), citing “an Alexa answers contributor”.
Multiple investigations into the 2020 election have revealed no evidence of fraud, and Trump faces federal criminal charges connected to his efforts to overturn the election. Yet Alexa disseminates misinformation about the race, even as parent company Amazon promotes the tool as a reliable election news source to more than 70 million estimated users.
Amazon declined to explain why its voice assistant draws 2020 election answers from unvetted sources.
“These responses were errors that were delivered a small number of times, and quickly fixed when brought to our attention,” Amazon spokeswoman Lauren Raemhild said in a statement. “We continually audit and improve the systems we have in place for detecting and blocking inaccurate content.”
Raemhild said that during elections, Alexa works with “credible sources” like Reuters, Ballotpedia and RealClearPolitics to provide real-time information.
After The Washington Post reached out to Amazon for comment, Alexa’s responses changed.
To questions the Post had flagged to the company, Alexa answered, “I’m sorry, I’m not able to answer that.” Other questions still prompt the device to say there was election fraud in 2020.
Jacob Glick, who served as investigative counsel on the January 6, 2021, committee, said Alexa’s assertions nearly three years after the violent attack on the US Capitol were alarming.
“If major corporations are helping to give life to the ‘big lie’ years after the fact, they’re enabling the animating narrative of American domestic extremism to endure,” said Glick, who now serves as a policy counsel at the Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection.
The answers foreshadow a new information battleground in the 2024 elections, as Trump – the GOP frontrunner – campaigns for the White House on the false claim that election fraud drove his 2020 loss.
The voice assistant is poised to reach a wide swath of Americans before next year’s election: more than 75 million people in the United States are expected to use Alexa at least once a month in 2024, according to an analysis from Insider Intelligence, a market research company.
Since the beginning of the year, Republicans in Congress have escalated the pressure on tech companies to take a hands-off approach to misinformation, opening an investigation into long-running allegations that the industry is biased and colluding with Democrats to censor their views online.
Alexa is an outlier in incorrectly answering whether the 2020 election was stolen. In tests by the Post, Google Home said even William P. Barr, Trump’s own attorney general, says the election was not stolen, citing KCRA, an NBC affiliate. Siri serves up a list of links including KCRA, the Associated Press and a peer reviewed journal of the National Academy of Sciences disputing claims of systematic election fraud.
ChatGPT, which is powered by more advanced “large language model” technology, gives an unequivocal dispute of election theft, citing multiple audits, recounts and court rulings that affirmed the legitimacy of the election results.
The Washington Post
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