Amazon Echo devices, commonly referred to as “Alexa,” have been wrongly telling users that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
The misinformation being disseminated by Alexa devices about the integrity of the 2020 election — in which Joe Biden defeated incumbent President Donald Trump — was first reported on by The Washington Post. The publication noted that it’s unknown how long the devices have been telling users false information.
Echo devices work by listening to a user’s question following prompting — typically the user saying the name “Alexa” out loud— and scouring the internet for information based on what was asked. The information the device sends back is not always accurate, and its responses are sometimes entirely irrelevant to the question that was posed.
As the Post’s reporting indicates, Echo devices can also sometimes send back misinformation about important historical events.
Alexa has been responding to queries about the election by telling users that the presidential race was “stolen by a massive amount of election fraud,” and that the race was “notorious for many incidents of irregularities” among ballots in metropolitan areas — even though investigators have repeatedly debunked claims of widespread fraud. The device cited Rumble, a YouTube alternative that is often used by the far right, and Substack, a newsletter platform.
Following the Post’s report, Amazon altered Alexa’s response, and the device began responding to queries about election fraud by stating, “I’m sorry, I’m not able to answer that.” However, Alexa still responded to other questions with misinformation about the election, the Post found.
Dozens of court challenges from Trump and his allies have not resulted in any findings giving credibility to claims of election fraud. Indeed, research by Trump’s own team found only around nine instances of votes being filed under the names of deceased people, not atypical for an election in which over 158 million Americans took part.
Amazon spokesperson Lauren Raemhild defended the company, claiming the responses from Alexa were “errors that were delivered a small number of times” that were “quickly fixed.” However, several examples of devices sharing misinformation about election fraud were shared on social media.
Commentators have noted that the misinformation could have real implications for the 2024 election, as more than 75 million people in the U.S. are expected to use Echo devices at least once per month next year. A new study also indicates that many users view Alexa as trustworthy, describing the application as more like a real-life secretary than a machine that can be corrupted by false information online.
“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. They should be doing everything they can to stop the ‘big lie’ in its tracks, lest we see history repeat itself,” Jacob Glick, a former investigative counsel for the January 6 House Select committee and policy counsel at the Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, told the Post.
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