Russia’s efforts to influence the United States were, and are, expansive, according to the American Intelligence Community and government officials. As we learn more, we are discovering that the scale of the interference efforts is much larger than previously thought–and even Pokemon Go was targeted.
According to a new report from CNN, Russian-linked accounts leveraged the popularity of the mobile game in an effort to play up a divisive topic. Across Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter accounts, actors linked to the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency posted under the name “Don’t Shoot Us.” The posts and videos all related to police brutality.
The name “Don’t Shoot Us” is likely a reference to “Hand’s Up, Don’t Shoot,” a slogan popularized after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. The slogan became widespread among Black Lives Matter and social justice activists. According to CNN, the Russian accounts probably hoped to galvanize black activism–and thus possibly spark a counter-reaction against black activists.
In July 2016, the “Don’t Shoot Us” Tumblr account held a competition, which tasked its audience to go out to the locations where alleged police brutality took place and to catch Pokemon in Pokemon Go. They would then have to name their Pokemon after a victim of police brutality–the account used a Hypno named Eric Gardner as an example.
“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,” developer Niantic told CNN in a statement.
It’s worth reading CNN’s full report; the Don’t Shoot Us account owners have been linked to several other interference efforts, as well. You can check it out here.
Research has discovered accounts and individuals linked to the Russian government and other powerful Russian actors which have attempted to sow discord and divisiveness within Internet communities, with the bulk of the efforts happening before the 2016 Presidential election.
Over the past few weeks, it has become clear that social media giants Facebook, Google, and Twitter were specifically targeted by the interference efforts–and that Russian-linked advertisements were shown to users during the election season. Representatives from these companies will testify in front of the Senate and House of Representatives Intelligence Committees on November 1.