In a growing wave of revelations that Russia used subversive ads and posts to sway the 2016 presidential election, companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google have all come forward with disclosures of ad buys from Russian-linked sources. But now, CNN reports that Russia even targeted Pokémon Go players–perhaps in an attempt to incite protest on real-world streets.
The social media campaign was dubbed “Don’t Shoot Us,” and was posed as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. With a presence on every major U.S. social media platform, Don’t Shoot Us would lead activists through what CNN calls a cross-linked “rabbit hole,” filled with reports of police brutality, eventually bringing them to a Tumblr page with a contest around Pokémon Go. Participants were encouraged to play the game near real-world incidents of police brutality, and name their pokémon after real-world victims like Eric Garner. Winners of the contest would receive Amazon gift cards.
Notably, CNN found no evidence that anyone actually took part in the contest, or that anyone actually actively protested through Pokémon Go. The app’s maker, Niantic, also pointed out that “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.”
But as a tool of influence, the campaign was still insidiously designed. Pokémon Go is one of the few apps that actively drives people into public spaces—65 million people monthly, in fact–meaning that even all those status updates sharing fake news could have been vastly overshadowed by real-life protesters being puppeted by dark, digital patterns.