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- Alexa gives Michelle Obama’s maiden name when asked if the former first lady “started out as “Michael.”
- Michelle Obama is not a transgender woman.
Do we need to fact-check Amazon’s Alexa?
Though we’ve previously debunked claims that former first lady Michelle Obama is a transgender woman who was born Michael LaVaughn Robinson, that former President Barack Obama referred to her as his "husband, Michael," and that this photo shows her as a man before they married, a video in a recent Instagram post appears to show Alexa suggesting otherwise.
"Alexa?" someone can be heard saying in the video. "Did Michelle Obama start out as Michael?"
"Here’s something I found on the web," Alexa can be heard saying. "Michelle Obama, first lady of the United States, was born Michael LaVaughn Robinson in Chicago, Illinois, on Jan. 17, 1964."
This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)
We’ll say again: Michelle Obama wasn’t born Michael LaVaughn Robinson. She was born Michelle LaVaughn Robinson.
Alexa also didn’t say as much when two PolitiFact staff members asked the same question in their homes.
"Michelle Obama’s birth name is Michelle LaVaughn Robinson and she was born on Jan. 17, 1964," Alexa said in both cases.
In 2018, Amazon launched an Amazon Echo feature that allowed users to create custom responses from Alexa. They could enter the the phrase they’d ask — like "What time should the kids go to bed?" — and then enter the answer they wanted Alexa to give, such as a bedtime for a babysitter.
Another custom Q&A example on Amazon’s "Alexa Skill Blueprints" page:
"Alexa, who is the best mom?"
Alexa: "I just compared all moms in history and my conclusion is that yours is the best."
We don’t know the backstory of the Alexa video in this Instagram post, but we do know that if you ask Alexa today whether Michelle Obama "started out as Michael," Alexa will correctly rebut the claim. And even if Alexa did give such a response, the claim itself is baseless.
We rate claims that suggest otherwise Pants on Fire!
Instagram post, Nov. 14, 2022
Alexa Skill Blueprints, Custom Q&A, visited Nov. 15, 2022
The White House, Michelle Obama, visited Nov. 15, 2022
PolitiFact, No, Obama didn’t call his wife his ‘husband Michael,’ Oct. 17, 2022
PolitiFact, Image of Michelle Obama is absolutely altered, May 28, 2021
PolitiFact, No, Michelle Obama is not a transgender woman, Oct. 31, 2020
MSNBC, How to get Alexa to answer certain questions exactly how you want it to, April 19, 2018
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