"Is nothing sacred?" I'm sure you've asked yourself that soul-searching question on at least one occasion. Well, I'm sorry to be the one to tell you the answer to that question is a resounding no—nothing is sacred. That includes wildly popular, and seemingly harmless, cell phone video games based on nostalgic cartoon TV shows from the '90s. Yes, I am talking about Pokémon Go.
According to a new report from CNN, a Russian-linked campaign posing as part of the Black Lives Matter movement used various social platforms to heighten racial tensions in the U.S. Among them are Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr and last but not least, Pokémon Go.
The campaign was reportedly called Don't Shoot Us—which bears a striking resemblance to the phrase "hands up, don't shoot" that was used across the nation and world after the police shooting of Michael Brown in 2014. According to CNN, the Don't Shoot Us campaign used the social platforms to call attention to incidents of police brutality, "with what may have been the dual goal of galvanizing African Americans to protest and encouraging other Americans to view black activism as a rising threat."
The website attached to the suspicious campaign linked back to a Tumblr account. In July of last year, said Tumblr account announced a contest encouraging visitors to play Pokémon Go. In particular, the Don't Shoot Us contest directed readers to find and train Pokémon near locations where alleged incidents of police violence had occurred.
Not only that, users were instructed to name their Pokémon after the victims who were assaulted or killed in those areas. CNN reports that a post promoting the contest showed a Pokémon named after Eric Garner. Classy.
Niantic, the company that produces Pokémon Go, responded to the game's questionable use in a statement issued to CNN. "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 said. "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."
Way to go, Russia. Creepy and incendiary AF.