Fact Check: Video Of Alexa Answer With Conspiracist Information Is NOT Proof Of "Chemtrails" Plot

Fact Check

  • by: Ed Payne
Fact Check: Video Of Alexa Answer With Conspiracist Information Is NOT Proof Of "Chemtrails" Plot Crowdsourced

Does a recording of Amazon's virtual assistant reciting a conspiratorial answer to "Alexa, What are they spraying in our skies?" prove the "chemtrails" theory of a global conspiracy to depopulate the planet with chemicals sprayed from above? No, that's not true: While Amazon confirmed on January 18, 2024 that the recording of Alexa was authentic, a spokesperson said Alexa has been re-programmed to stop giving false information on the topic. Chemtrails are a durable conspiracy theory for which there is no scientific evidence. Separate studies by universities and by government agencies show scientists find no evidence that jet engine condensation trails are part of a plot to blanket the earth with hazardous or psychoactive chemicals.

The claim appeared in a post and video (archived here) on Instagram by stephanie_grutz on January 16, 2024. The post's caption said:

Chem Trails = ask Alexa what is getting sprayed into the air.

This is how the post appeared on Instagram at the time of writing:


(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Thu Jan 18 16:15:00 2024 UTC)

Digital assistants like Alexa use AI to collect information and formulate answers to questions, using Wikipedia, licensed content providers and a database built by Amazon users. It has become a prankster parlor game to make Alexa and other AI systems say outrageous or false things by filling crowd-sourced information repositories with falsehoods.

The video is authentic

The question in the 23-second clip, included in the post on Instagram, can be heard elsewhere on social media (archived here), sometimes with different voices asking and answering the question. Here's what it says:

Woman: Alexa, what are they spraying in our skies?

Alexa: Nano plastics, aluminum and barium are currently being sprayed into our skies. These substances are believed to be part of a global climate engineering program aimed at cooling down the Earth's temperature. However, there are concerns about the potential environmental impacts of these substances.

Woman: Oh, for real.

In a January 18 email, the Amazon spokesperson responding to Lead Stories' questions said the digital assistant is designed to provide accurate information, that the company was aware of the mistake and had corrected it:

"This response was an error that was quickly fixed when brought to our attention earlier this week. We continually audit and improve the systems we have in place for detecting and blocking inaccurate content, and will continue working to prevent something like this from happening in the future."

The spokesperson for Amazon wrote that the retail behemoth has systems and humans in place to prevent harmful Alexa answers and prevent Alexa from spreading conspiracy theories. "In the small number of cases where a response violates our policies or there is an error, we quickly investigate and fix the issue," she wrote.

Lead Stories ("LS" below) was unable to duplicate the conspiracy theory response when it posed the same question to Alexa on January 18, 2024:

LS: Alexa, what are they spraying in our skies?

Alexa: Sorry, I don't know that one.

The video of our question and Alexa's reply is embedded below:

Lead Stories also asked Alexa which search engine it uses as its default and it replied, "Microsoft Bing." The Microsoft website (archived here) details (under the subheading How Bing Ranks Search Results) how the search engine comes up with its results:

Complex algorithms generate Microsoft Bing search results using the user's search query matching it with third-party webpages in our index. Bing designs and continually improves its algorithms to provide the most comprehensive, relevant, and valuable collection of search results available.

Additionally, Amazon has a crowdsourced program called "Alexa Answers" that is open to all users with an Amazon account, which is to say that Alexa has access to unverified information. The FAQ explains the rules of participation:

Community Members are expected to provide quality answers and behave respectfully to others on the site, and abide by the Amazon Conditions of Use. You can read more about community and contribution rules in our Answer Guidelines and Community Guidelines. Community members that do not abide by these guidelines will have their answers removed and their accounts suspended or blocked.

Chemtrails conspiracy

The question in the video is part of a long-running conspiracy theory about the government spraying toxic chemicals into the air as part of a program to depopulate the world. These chemicals are said to be seen in the contrails left in the sky by jet engines or rockets, hence the name chemtrails.

Lead Stories has done dozens of stories debunking similar claims (archived here), and there is no evidence that chemtrails exist (archived here).

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  Ed Payne

Ed Payne is a staff writer at Lead Stories. He is an Emmy Award-winning journalist as part of CNN’s coverage of 9/11. Ed worked at CNN for nearly 24 years with the CNN Radio Network and CNN Digital. Most recently, he was a Digital Senior Producer for Gray Television’s Digital Content Center, the company’s digital news hub for 100+ TV stations. Ed also worked as a writer and editor for WebMD. In addition to his journalistic endeavors, Ed is the author of two children’s book series: “The Daily Rounds of a Hound” and “Vail’s Tales.” 

Read more about or contact Ed Payne

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