A new report says Russian attempts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election went beyond social media.
A source familiar with the investigation confirmed to CNN Thursday that the “Don’t Shoot Us” Facebook page was one of 470 accounts taken down after the company found they were run by the Kremlin-linked troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency (IRA). The IRA’s Don’t Shoot Us campaign posed as part of the Black Lives Matter movement, using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr and even Pokemon Go to fuel racial tensions and division in America.
Pokemon Go is an augmented reality app that exploded in popularity last year as gamers tried to catch and train virtual Pokemon through their smartphones.
According to the report, the Don’t Shoot Us campaign — an apparent reference to the Michael Brown-inspired mantra “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” — announced a contest on its Tumblr page in July 2016 for Pokemon Go players. Players were encouraged to visit sites of alleged police brutality cases and to give characters the names of police shooting victims, including Eric Garner, for a chance to win Amazon gift cards.
CNET reports it’s unclear what goal the Pokemon Go contest attempted to achieve, but it may have been aimed at upsetting victims’ families or continuing to inflame racial tensions.
According to The Verge, there’s no evidence anyone participated in the contest or that gift cards were given out.
Niantic, the game developer behind Pokemon Go, said in a statement that the game itself was not compromised by Russians.
“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,” a Niantic spokesman said. “It is important to note that Pokemon 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.”
Facebook revealed last month that hundreds of fake accounts, probably run from Russia, spent about $100,000 on ads aimed at stirring up divisive issues such as gun control and race relations during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The accounts came from a St. Petersburg-based “troll farm” known for promoting pro-Russian government positions online, likely in an effort to influence U.S. politics last year.
According to CNET, Facebook, Twitter and Google are expected to testify Nov. 1 in Congressional hearings about foreign efforts using social media to try to interfere with the election. A report earlier this week said Russian operatives likely spent tens of thousands of dollars on ads across Google products, including YouTube and Google search, in 2016.