We usually try to avoid politics here at Attack of the Fanboy, but it seems that the worlds of politics and video games can never be totally separated. This brings us to today’s news out of CNN that reports on the Russian influence efforts during the 2016 US Presidential election. We already knew about Russia’s campaign, which utilized Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other social networking platforms, but it seems that it went even deeper, reaching into the world of Pokemon Go.
It makes sense, as Pokemon Go was massively popular throughout the middle and late 2016. The game launched in June, right when the US election was heading into the final main event. At the time, Russia was reportedly using websites and services to sow discord among American voters, either pushing for far right ideologies, or delivering extreme versions of leftist philosophy. So, how was Pokemon Go used for these purposes?
According to the CNN report there was a Russian backed organization called Don’t Shoot Us, which seems to be a play off of the anti-police abuse movement “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.” This organization was shut down on Facebook, following the revelations about Russia’s involvement. Now that their data is in the hands of investigators, they’ve dug in to find how deep the involvement went.
In July 2016 the Don’t Shoot Us Tumblr page encouraged its followers to play Pokemon Go, directing them toward areas where incidents of police violence took place. “Users were instructed to give their Pokémon names corresponding with those of the victims,” says the report. “A post promoting the contest showed a Pokémon named “Eric Garner,” for the African-American man who died after being put in a chokehold by a New York Police Department officer.” Winners were promised Amazon gift cards, though there’s no evidence that anyone entered or won the contest.
It’s not totally clear how this was meant to create strife for America and its voters. One theory is that Russia simply wanted to foment anger, no matter the side or cause, and by reminding people of these police incidents they could accomplish that.
“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’s spokeperson told CNN. “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. This ‘contest’ required people to take screen shots from their phone and share over other social networks, not within our game. Niantic will consider our response as we learn more.”