Nothing is safe from the Russians! Not even Pikachu!
Or at least that’s CNN’s new claim in the ongoing Russian election meddling saga.
According to CNN, the augmented reality game known as Pokemon GO was also part of Russia’s plan to get people to Pokemon GO-to-the-polls — shame on you for that one, Hillary — and get Donald Trump elected. The plan, involved a social media group encouraging others to go to famous sites of police brutality where there may be a nearby virtual Pokemon gym, conquering the gym, and then naming the Pokemon you put to guard the gym after figures like Trayvon Martin, or Mike Brown.
CNN claimed that under instructions from the Kremlin, a group called “Don’t Shoot Us” encouraged people to accomplish this task by offering Amazon gift cards for the best racially divisive Pokemon name. CNN reported that Don’t Shoot Us has links to Russia because it was one of the Facebook accounts determined to be in league with the Internet Research Agency, a shadowy Russian troll farm.
The campaign, titled “Don’t Shoot Us,” offers new insights into how Russian agents created a broad online ecosystem where divisive political messages were reinforced across multiple platforms, amplifying a campaign that appears to have been run from one source — the shadowy, Kremlin-linked troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency.
A source familiar with the matter confirmed to CNN that the Don’t Shoot Us Facebook page was one of the 470 accounts taken down after the company determined they were linked to the IRA. CNN has separately established the links between the Facebook page and the other Don’t Shoot Us accounts.
According to CNN, the group’s donotshoot.us links to a Tumblr page owned by the group, which in 2016 continuously posted about instances, images, and videos of police brutality. It was from the Tumblr page that the contest was created. The Tumblr page now reportedly posts only pro-Palestinian news and messages according to CNN.
No one participated in the contest to CNN’s knowledge.
CNN’s link to putting the site under Russian management comes in their claim that donotshoot.us editor, Daniel Reed, answered questions during an interview with the now defunct International Press Foundation (IPF). According to CNN, the IPF editor who did the interview conducted it through email, and never spoke to Reed on the phone.
The IPF received a four page Microsoft Word document from Reed written in English, but found a Russian word in the metadata:
“Reed” sent the answers to IPF’s questions in a four-page Microsoft Word document. The document, which outlined what “Reed” described as problems with the American justice system and police brutality, was written entirely in English.
However, when CNN examined the document metadata, “Название,” the Russian word for “name,” was part of the document properties.
Two cybersecurity experts who reviewed the document’s metadata told CNN that it was likely created on a computer or a program running Russian as its primary language.
That’s about it.
I’ve read through CNN’s claim a couple times now, and I’m not sure I’m buying the connection fully. Unless there’s a smokier gun somewhere out there, the Russian connection seems rather flimsy, and this could be more Russia-Trump hysteria from a network that swears there are Russians under their beds at night.
In the meantime, there are reports that Pikachu has been taken in for questioning by the FBI.