Kremlin uses social media, Pokemon Go to stir up racial tension in US

Russian agents linked to the country’s Internet Research Agency infiltrated social media channels and popular artificial intelligence game Pokemon Go to meddle in US politics and incite racial conflicts by creating fake campaigns and profiles associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, according to a CNN investigation.

The campaign, called Don’t Shoot Us, was actively promoted on social networks and used each channel to accuse police of brutality and exploit sensitive social matters to divide US society. As many as 470 fake social media accounts were removed from Facebook and 210 from Twitter for association with the Do Not Shoot Us campaign used by Russian agents to infiltrate American politics and incite racial hatred among citizens.

The goal was to both portray black activism as a threat to American audiences, and to incite African Americans. The YouTube channel stored over 200 videos of alleged police brutality, posted between May and December 2016.

Pokemon Go was also used by Russian operatives to exploit tensions in American society by launching a contest in the summer of 2016. Players were sent looking for creatures in key locations with a history of police brutality. At the scene, their usernames were changed to those of the victims.

“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 ‘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.”

The fake activists behind Don’t Shoot Us went as far as to reach out to news outlets to spread the word about protests and riots they were planning to organize. As YouTube, Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook have been used as key channels, their representatives have been asked to attend a public hearing before the Senate and House Intelligence Committees on November 1.

Investigators are now trying to figure out whether the Russians had any American help and to what extent Facebook knew what was happening. The Tumblr page of Don’t Shoot Us now focuses on Palestine.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said that CNN is a “talentless television channel” and denied any Russian government involvement.

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