Election-meddling Russian troll farms tried to use Pokémon Go to stir racial tensions
Even Russian troll farms couldn’t help but get in on the Pokémon Go fad that swept the country last year.
In one of the most absurd twists yet in the investigation into Russia-aligned election meddling, CNN reports that Kremlin-linked actors may have tried to use the hype around the augmented-reality app to inflame racial divisions.
If you’re having trouble imagining how whimsical Japanese fantasy creatures might connect to deep-seated societal tensions, you’re in good company. The answer isn’t exactly intuitive. Apparently, the Internet Research Agency — the same notorious troll farm behind the election ads Facebook recently disclosed — ran a contest on Tumblr directing players to find Pokémon near sites of alleged police brutality against African Americans, and name them after the victims. Users were then supposed to email the organization proof of having done so for the chance to win Amazon gift cards.
CNN was not able to find evidence of anyone actually following through with these instructions.
The network reports that Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts linked to the same race-based campaign have since been suspended, but a YouTube channel and website remain active.
“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 the game, said in a statement to CNN.
It’s not clear what the precise goal of this particular operation was, but the group behind it has seized on racial divides in other political subversion campaigns as well. Many of the Facebook ads it planted were reportedly focused on the Black Lives Matter movement and targeted sites of prominent incidents of police violence like Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore.
Among the other political pressure points the agency sought to exploit were immigration, anti-Muslim resentment, and LGBT rights.
It’s yet another example of why it’s so important — as Hillary Clinton famously said on the campaign trail — to Pokémon Go to the polls.