Russian agents used Pokemon Go to stoke racial tensions during U.S. election: report
Even Pikachu aren’t safe from Russian election meddling.
That’s the conclusion of a CNN investigation which found that Russian-linked operatives used the Pokemon Go gaming app — as well as other digital platforms — to stoke racial tensions in the U.S., as part of a campaign to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.
Pokemon Go, which became a global sensation following its release in 2016, lets players collect virtual creatures, called Pokemon, from real-world locations. Addictive game-play aside, the app was also harnessed for all kinds of marketing and awareness campaigns.
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One of them was “Don’t Shoot Us,” a contest that challenged players to find Pokemon in places where acts of alleged police brutality took place. Purportedly set up by the Black Lives Matter movement, the campaign encouraged players to name Pokemon characters collected in these areas after victims of police brutality, in order to spread awareness about the issue.
It promised winners of the contest Amazon gift cards.
Only “Don’t Shoot Us” wasn’t run by Black Lives Matter activists, but a Kremlin-linked troll farm called the Internet Research Agency.
Pokemon Go players are seen in search of Pokemon in Pasadena Playhouse District during PokeNight in Pasadena, California, July 27, 2016.PG/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images
According to CNN, Russian operatives sought to use “Don’t Shoot Us” to provoke protest among African Americans, with the aim of unsettling white Americans and making them perceive black activism as a threat.
Niantic, the makers of Pokemon Go, said it would look into the matter.
“It’s clear from the images shared with us by CNN that our game assets were appropriated and misused in promotions by third parties without our permission,” the company said in a statement. “Niantic will consider our response as we learn more.”
In addition to Pokemon Go, the Don’t Shoot Us campaign also set up Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts, which have since been suspended. But a YouTube channel called “Don’t Shoot” — which compiles hundreds of videos of alleged police brutality and racial profiling — was still active as of Saturday.
On Friday, the Associated Press reported that Twitter presented U.S. Senate investigators with information about 201 “handles” or accounts linked to Russian attempts at influencing the election. Earlier in the week, Google, which owns YouTube, was reported to have uncovered tens of thousands of dollars in advertising spending traced to Russian operatives.