At this point, it’s abundantly clear that Russia—or at least people in Russia—organized an endlessly elaborate scheme to influence the presidential election, partly by purchasing misleading and manipulative ads on Facebook and Google. Now, a report from CNN has revealed that the endlessly elaborate scheme was somehow even more endlessly elaborate than previously thought. Apparently, a Russia-backed campaign tried to combine the Tumblr community, Black Lives Matter, and Pokémon Go into some kind of perfect storm of manipulation, all in an attempt to piss off Trumpers so much that they’d be more likely to vote.
This all goes back to a group of social media pages called Don’t Shoot Us—a play on BLM’s “Hands up, don’t shoot” chant—that mostly shared news reports about police brutality and attempted to organize protests and rallies. These pages were run by someone with the very American-sounding name Clerk York, and they were registered in Illinois at an address that happened to be a shopping mall (which, to be fair, does sound like somewhere an American would live). The Tumblr page seemed like the focus of the campaign, though, and CNN says it launched a contest in July of last year that seems overtly designed to rile people up.
According to a colorful rules page, the contest asked people to change the names of their monsters on Pokémon Go to the names of people who were killed by police. Then, they’d find a Pokémon Go gym close to where that person was killed, take over the gym, and leave this specific monster behind. Once they took a screenshot and sent it to this Tumblr page, they’d be entered to win an Amazon gift card. CNN doesn’t know what the point of this all was, but it seems like the idea was to manipulate left-leaning people into hijacking the game with a political message, which could in turn manipulate right-leaning people into getting angry and becoming more politically motivated.
The whole thing was partly exposed by attempts to break into the real world, which got actual activists to start questioning Don’t Shoot Us and looking into who was running it. Attempts to speak with the people behind the group turned up suspicious inconsistencies, and CNN says a glance at the metadata of a document that Don’t Shoot Us put together revealed some Russian words—which Clerk York, an American man living in a mall, probably wouldn’t do.
Since the election, the Don’t Shoot Us Tumblr page has reportedly begun sharing pro-Palestine stories.