Pokemon GO was part of a multi-pronged campaign to destabilize American politics led by a group of Russian trolls called the Internet Research Agency.
The campaign called “Don’t Shoot Us” used the augmented reality game and other online platforms, including Facebook, Tumblr, and YouTube, to share messages that were meant to create discord among Americans. According to CNN, “Don’t Shoot Us” could be a reference to “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” a slogan that emerged from the Black Lives Matter movement after Michael Brown was shot dead by a policeman.
Last year, the “Don’t Shoot Us” Tumblr page hosted a contest where they encouraged their followers to find Pokemon near areas where incidents of police brutality were reported. Players were then instructed to name their Pokemon after the victims. For example, a post publicizing the contest showed a Pokemon named after Eric Garner, an African-American man who died after a policeman used a chokehold on him. Competition winners were given Amazon gift cards as prizes.
As CNN reports, the goal of the contest could have been to remind people that these incidents had taken place and to spark anger among players. But it’s still unclear whether anyone actually entered the competition or whether any of the prizes were awarded.
“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,” Niantic, the company behind Pokemon GO, said in a statement sent to CNN.
The statement adds that Pokemon GO was not used to share information between users and that the competition asked users to take screenshots of the game and share them on social media platforms.
“Niantic will consider our response as we learn more,” the statement continues.
The Tumblr page that promoted the Pokemon GO contest no longer posts about police brutality and instead posts pro-Palestinian messages.
As CNET reports, tech giants like Facebook, Google, and Twitter have been under a microscope because of reports that Russian trolls used them to influence the 2016 presidential election. Representatives from each of these companies are expected to testify at a congressional hearing on November 1 about Russian election meddling.
According to CNET, the companies have been conducting their own internal investigations into Russian political trolling in hopes that they can avoid potential governmental regulation. Facebook recently turned over 3,000 ads linked to Russian accounts to Congress.
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