Et Tu, Pikachu? Pokemon Go Part of Russia Election Mess

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Even a kids' AR game was apparently in on the Russian plot.
Even a kids' AR game was apparently in on the Russian plot. Credit: nicescene/iStock; daboost/iStock; Niantic; Composite by Ad Age

Not even Pokémon Go was safe from Russian interference during the election.

The blockbuster mobile game was used as a propaganda tool by Russian groups that were active on other social platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, according to a new CNN report.

Here's how the augmented reality children's game got dragged into U.S. politics and how it was connected to the rest of the misinformation on social media: A group called "Don't Shoot Us" was started to promote racial justice issues such as standing against police brutality. The group established a presence on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and even Tumblr, where it encouraged people to join a Pokémon Go contest. The contest invited people to visit sites of police shootings, train the digital Pokémon creatures at those spots, and name their pet creatures in the augmented world after real-world victims of police.

The group "Don't Shoot Us" followed a now-familiar pattern of embracing politically divisive causes in order to help spark societal turmoil in the U.S. Facebook had said it found 470 fake accounts with Russian backers that spread messages on all manner of topics, from immigration to gun control, anything that might drive a wedge in the American fabric. Similar activities were uncovered on YouTube, and now clearly Tumblr.

CNN said the "Don't Shoot Us" group was one of the 470 found on Facebook. It isn't clear whether anyone participated in the contest, according to CNN's report.

At this point, it would be a surprise if Russian agents weren't active on a popular digital platform during the election.

Congress and a special investigator are looking into Russian activity during the U.S. election, and how Russians used the internet to wage perhaps the most successful disinformation campaign in history.

On Thursday, Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg discussed the Russian meddling publicly for the first time. "Things happened on our platform that shouldn't have happened," Sandberg said in an interview with Axios.

Facebook, Google and Twitter have said fake accounts with ties to Russia even paid paid for ads to amplify their divisive messages in the U.S. What they didn't pay for still found a welcoming American audience to help spread the word.

Facebook, Twitter and Google executives are expected to testify on the subject in Washington on Nov. 1.

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