A Russian hacker group actively used Pokemon Go and other social media platforms to promote racial hatred and to meddle in, control and influence the political atmosphere in the U.S.
The Russian hacker group asked Pokemon Go players to visit scenes of racial conflict and named Pokemon characters after victims of racial violence.
While there is no denying that Russian hackers had a major role to play in influencing the outcome of the U.S. elections, a new report from CNN lays bare details of how a Russian hacker group has also been involved in promoting racial hatred in the U.S. and in vitiating the political atmosphere in the country ever since.
The CNN investigation has revealed that the hackers in question made active use of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube as well as the uber-popular online game Pokemon Go to promote racial hatred and to back movements like Black Lives Matter and Don't Shoot Us.
While hackers didn't exactly hack into the gaming app, they actively interacted with game users and urged them to visit scenes of racial crimes and police brutality. They also ran contests on Pokemon Go, named Pokemon characters after victims of racial violence and awarded Amazon gift cards to winners of such contests.
Following the revelation, the makers of Pokemon Go clarified that they knew nothing about the campaign and added that it was being run without their explicit consent. "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," they 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 screenshots from their phone and share over other social networks, not within our game. Niantic will consider our response as we learn more."
At the same time, the Russian hacker group also used Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to actively promote campaigns like Black Lives Matter and Don't Shoot Us. The ultimate aim was to divide the American society on racial grounds and to further animosity between groups of people.
'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,' said Donie O'Sullivan and Dylan Byers from CNN Money.
In June, after an NSA report detailing how Russian hackers hacked into election-related software to launch a voter-registration themed spear-phishing campaign in the US got leaked, Tim Erlin, director of IT security and risk strategy at Tripwire, termed it an unprecedented moment in both politics and information security.
'A foreign power possibly influencing the US presidential election through electronic means is a game changer for information security professionals.
'We’re seeing a significant shift in the role that information security plays on the global stage. While the DNC attack is the most visible, it’s not the first incident. We’ve been building up to this type of event for a number of years,' he said.
Just like he warned, and CNN uncovered, the Russian Internet Research Agency ran hundreds of Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr accounts to promote racial hatred. A YouTube page dedicated to the Don't Shoot Us campaign contained more than 200 videos of police brutality which were viewed more than 368,000 times.
After these accounts were reported, Facebook and Twitter identified as many as 470 and 201 accounts respectively that were linked to the Internet Research Agency. Google has also revealed that thousands of dollars were spent by Russian accounts to purchase ad space on its various platforms, including YouTube.
CNN also revealed that an email address used by the Internet Research Agency to contact Brandon Weigel, an editor at Baltimore City Paper, to promote a protest outside a courthouse was also used to contact other journalists as well as to promote contests on Pokemon Go.