In Russian Election Meddling, There’s Even a Pokémon Connection
Facebook and Twitter may have the spotlight in the ongoing furore over Russian meddling in last year’s U.S. election, but it’s looking increasingly likely that other services were also used in divisive ways too—YouTube, Tumblr and…Pokémon Go?
CNN conducted an investigation of a campaign called “Don’t Shoot Us” that appeared to dovetail with the anti-police-brutality Black Lives Matter movement, but was reportedly the product of the St Petersburg-based “Internet Research Agency.”
According to the report, the Don’t Shoot Us Facebook page was one of those removed by the platform after Facebook (FB) realized hundreds of its accounts were “inauthentic” and linked to the Russian troll factory.
CNN followed the links from the Don’t Shoot Us YouTube account to the campaign’s own website, which linked to a Tumblr account. On that Tumblr account, whoever was behind the campaign ran a July 2016 Pokémon Go “contest” in which readers were encouraged to go to locations near sites of police brutality, in order to find Pokémon and name them after the victims in those incidents, such as Eric Garner.
What’s not clear is whether anyone decided to take part in this contest. What is clear is that Niantic, the company behind the 2016-craze game, is not pleased about the Don’t Shoot Us organizers misusing the Pokémon Go “game assets” in the imagery for the contest.
“It is important to note that Pokémon Go, as a platform, was not and cannot be used to share information between users in the app so our platform was in no way being used,” the firm said.
The Pokémon Go detail in this story is certainly surreal, but the important part is how the Internet Research Agency didn’t just try to sow discord by appealing to those on the right, whose candidate, Donald Trump, ended up winning. Indeed, CNN also ran a report last month describing how another Agency-linked campaign, called “Blacktivist,” also tried to stir up racial outrage over police killings.
In the case of Don’t Shoot Us, those behind the campaign reportedly used it to organize a real-world protest in Minnesota after the shooting of Philando Castile. Local activists, who did not recognize the group, warned people that the proposed protest was a “total troll job.”