Millions of people in the United States play Pokemon GO every single day, and unfortunately this provides a lot of opportunity for misdeeds. There have already been reports of Pokemon GO murders and robberies as people have been ambushed while playing, but new reports detail the most surprising instance of Pokemon GO-related meddling yet.
According to a report by CNN, a Russian-linked campaign called ‘Don’t Shoot Us’ used Pokemon GO and social media platforms to divide the American people ahead of last year’s election. The organizers of Don’t Shoot Us aimed to “exploit racial tensions” in the ongoing conversation about police brutality and the mistreatment of minority ethnic people. It posted and shared news reports and footage of alleged incidents of police brutality, seemingly doing so in order to incite protests and to create a divide between protesters and those who would see black activism as a threat.
Pokemon GO was used as a Tumblr page linked to Don’t Shoot Us hosted a competition, sending players of the hit mobile game to catch Pokemon and visit Gyms where alleged incidents of police brutality had taken place. Players were also told to name their Pokemon after victims of police brutality and email them the proof for the chance to win up to $100 as an Amazon gift card. The Don’t Shoot Us organizers also reached out to local media to promote the contest, but CNN reports that it’s unclear if anyone actually entered the contest.
Niantic also released a statement saying that “our game assets were appropriated and misused in promotions by third parties without our permission”. The developer also stresses that Pokemon GO “cannot be used to share information between users in the app so our platform was in no way being used,” rather, the screenshots were being shared over social media. Though, Niantic “will consider our response as we learn more.”
In the past, entire countries have banned Pokemon GO over possible misuse of the app. Iran banned Pokemon GO due to safety concerns, and China also banned the game for similar reasons. While few players could have predicted that the game would have been used for Russian meddling in politics, these countries may have considered this sort of tampering as an extreme possibility.
As Niantic highlights that this contest was not held within its app and that it had no involvement, it may be absolved of responsibility or wrongdoing here. This may mean that Niantic will not have to testify in the United States government’s ongoing investigation into Russian involvement in the election (representatives for Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube will reportedly be testifying soon). But after Pokemon GO was recently used to detect a Russian cyberweapon too, the game is certainly on politician’s radars.
Pokemon GO is available now on Android and iOS.