Russian trolls posing as progressive activists found a new weapon to use against American citizens: Pokémon Go. In an attempt to galvanize Americans and encourage national protests, a Russian-backed troll group created a Pokémon Go contest posing as a #BlackLivesMatter protest.
A CNN investigation shared earlier today reveals that the Internet Research Agency, a Russian trolling group who may have impacted the U.S. 2016 presidential election, used a Pokémon Go contest in an attempt to fuel racial tension in the U.S.
The IRA’s #BlackLivesMatter trolling group, called “Don’t Shoot Us,” set up a contest on its Tumblr page in an attempt to make trainers engage in political activism. Pokémon Go trainers had to visit a location where police engaged in police brutality, according to a picture from the contest obtained by CNN.
Using a Pokémon in the victim’s name, players would then enter a nearby Gym, capture it, and take a screenshot with their Pokémon in control. After sending in an email, a selected winner was eligible for $25, $75, or $100 Amazon gift cards. The ad shows a trainer controlling a gym with a Pokémon named “Eric Garner,” referencing an unarmed black father who was killed by a New York police officer after he was put into an illegal chokehold.
CNN reports that there’s no proof any trainers entered the contest or received gift cards. It seems likely that the contest was made to encourage protests, however, by reminding local communities that the incidents happened. Either way, the contest’s rules are tasteless, in part because the trolls’ actions encourage trainers to feign activism in order to win Amazon gift cards. Niantic has since spoken out, condemning Don’t Shoot Us’ giveaway.
“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 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 isn’t the first time Pokémon Go has impacted international politics. Previously, Pokémon Go trainers found a GPS spoofing device deployed by the Kremlin, after Moscow players’ phones were redirected to a local airport. As an AR game, Pokémon Go is revolutionizing the way people approach technology, and that means its power can be used for both good or bad.