CNN has learned through an exclusive report that internet groups linked to Russia might have sought to spark racial tensions in the United States using not only social media but also the popular mobile game Pokémon Go.
Accounts posing as Black Lives Matter supporters organized campaigns for different protests across the country on several platforms. One of them was a contest that invited Pokémon Go players to capture gyms near racial violence sites and rename their creatures with the names of police brutality victims.
Reporters from the media giant unearthed a massive operation that reached hundreds of thousands of users in social media platforms. Congress is currently investigating the extent of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections, which resulted in the swearing of Donald Trump as the 45th leader of the U.S.
Pokémon Go contest wanted to stir racial conflict
The concrete evidence that the Kremlin meddling efforts extended to Pokémon Go come from a flyer posted to the group named Don’t Shoot Us on its official site/Tumblr page. In it, it detailed the specifics of a contest through which players could win Amazon gift cards.
Pokémon Go players were prompted to follow a Google Maps link in which locations were marked with the names of victims of police brutality incidents. The contest consisted in capturing gyms near the locations and renaming the leader Pokémon with the name of a victim.
A $100 Amazon gift card was the prize for the person who captured more gyms, while $75 was offered to the second best and $50 to the third place. People had to send screenshots of the victim-named Pokémon owning the gym to a Gmail address belonging to the organization.
Exclusive: Russian-linked meddling effort extended to YouTube, Tumblr and even Pokémon Go https://t.co/Tw6WATNizC pic.twitter.com/bCvVYPKIki
— CNN (@CNN) October 12, 2017
CNN was unable to confirm whether people actually engaged in this contest in any way or not, and it is believed that the Russians sought to spark controversy by making memorials out of gyms and bring racial tensions to the popular AR game.
An important presence of black victim’s names in prominent gyms within the mobile hit would have certainly caught people’s attention. Pokémon Go, which was no short of controversies for various reasons, might even have served as a platform to trigger physical conflict and feed the conservative narrative.
YouTube channels owned by Don’t Shoot us were collectively seen by more than 300,000 people, while their Twitter account reached over 200,000 people in the period before and after the 2016 presidential elections.
Some of their sites are still active and have shifted to post about Palestine. No names, addresses, or contacts panned out while investigating, although a Russian connection was made in one of the documents that CNN was able to obtain.