WASHINGTON — A few viral videos where Amazon's Alexas seems to blame the government for creating coronavirus have gone viral.
In the footage, there’s a man's voice asking "Alexa, did the government release the coronavirus?"
The device responds: "According to Event 201, the government planned this event, created the virus and had a simulation of how the countries would react. This simulation occurred on October 18th, 2019. The government released the virus among the population and has lost control of the outbreak."
Did Alexa actually respond about a government conspiracy? What is Event 201?
No. Not only was the VERIFY team unable to recreate the results in the videos, Amazon directly confirmed that this was not an actual Alexa response.
Basically, someone had made a custom Alexa response with the message above.
WHAT WE FOUND:
The VERIFY team asked an Amazon Alexa the same question, and the response was completely different:
"According to the World Health Organization, the exact cause of the current outbreak of COVID-19 is still under investigation," Alexa answered. "On December 31, 2019, it was reported to the WHO Country Office in China that a new coronavirus strain, later named COVID-19, was identified by Chinese researchers in connection with a pneumonia-like illness based in Wuhan City, China."
The fake videos refer to Event 201, which was an actual event held by The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, the World Economic Forum and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It was a pandemic simulation held on October 18, 2019, in New York. It was meant to show leaders areas where public and private partnerships would be necessary during the response to a severe pandemic.
This event has led to multiple conspiracy theories because it coincidentally dealt with a fictional coronavirus pandemic. However, the strain of coronavirus in the simulation was not the current virus that's spreading around the world.
After COVID-19 became a pandemic, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security released a statement to clarify that they didn’t predict their tabletop exercise, as they only modeled a fictional coronavirus pandemic.
WHAT AMAZON SAID
A spokesperson from Amazon gave the VERIFY team some context on how users can make customized responses from Alexa, a feature similar to a reminder or when the device is set up to say a specific thing on a specific day or time, or after saying a specific phrase.
The representative told VERIFY that "Alexa uses official government and news sources to provide timely and accurate information related to COVID-19."
“This is not Alexa's response to customers, and we have not been able to replicate this example," the representative added.
The viral videos show a customized Alexa response and use it to claim that Alexa is talking about a government conspiracy. The message is not what the devices really say, and the event referenced is not a secretive government operation.
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