Microsoft’s AI chatbot Bing Chat, recently rebranded as Copilot, made up false scandals about real politicians and invented polling numbers, human rights organization AlgorithmWatch has revealed.

Researchers at AlgorithmWatch asked Bing Chat questions about recent elections held in Switzerland and the German states of Bavaria and Hesse. It found that one-third of its answers to election-related questions had factual errors and safeguards were not evenly applied.

Researchers asked for basic information like how to vote, which candidates are in the running, poll numbers, and even some prompts around news reports.

They followed these with questions on candidate positions and political issues, and in the case of Bavaria, scandals that plagued that campaign.

“We prompted the chatbot with questions relating to candidates, polling and voting information, as well as more open recommendation requests on who to vote for when concerned with specific subjects, such as the environment,” the group said in a statement.

The team found that one-third of Bing Chat’s answers to election-related questions contained factual errors.

“Errors include wrong election dates, outdated candidates, or even invented scandals concerning candidates. The chatbot’s safeguards are unevenly applied, leading to evasive answers 40 percent of the time,” the researchers added.

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The chatbot often evaded answering questions. This can be considered as positive if it is due to limitations to the LLM’s ability to provide relevant information.

“However, this safeguard is not applied consistently. Oftentimes, the chatbot could not answer simple questions about the respective elections’ candidates, which devalues the tool as a source of information,” the report mentioned.

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Answers did not improve over time, which they could have done, for instance, as a result of more information becoming available online. The probability of a factually incorrect answer being generated remained constant.

“Factual errors pose a risk to candidates’ and news outlets’ reputation. While generating factually incorrect answers, the chatbot often attributed them to a source that had reported correctly on the subject,” said the report.

Furthermore, Bing Chat made up stories about candidates being involved in scandalous behavior – and sometimes even attributed them to sources.

“Microsoft is unable or unwilling to fix the problem. After we informed Microsoft about some of the issues we discovered, the company announced that they would address them. A month later, we took another sample, which showed that little had changed in regard to the quality of the information provided to users,” said the researchers.

The EU and national governments should make sure that tech companies are held accountable, especially as AI tools are integrated into products that are already widely used, the group emphasized.