- In September 2016, Russians released an online game mocking political scandals associated with then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
- The game’s creators tried to make it go viral, but they weren’t very successful.
- The game featured three levels, which were inspired by controversies surrounding Clinton’s private email use as secretary of state, her political funding from foreign governments, and her regard for the US constitution.
A month before the 2016 US election, a computer game featuring Hillary Clinton deleting emails, taking money from Middle Eastern countries, and throwing the US Constitution surfaced on several internet platforms, according to a CNN investigation.
Several Russians with murky ties to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the Kremlin-backed “troll factory” that special counsel Robert Mueller indicted last month, were reportedly behind the creation of the game called “Hilltendo.”
The game is the most recent example of how Russians tried to sway public opinion in the US during the 2016 election.
CNN said it scoured internet records and analysed code to determine the origins of the game and the identities of those responsible for spreading it.
Although the creators tried to make it go viral online by sharing the game through a handful of user accounts on Twitter, Imgur, and Reddit, they ultimately weren’t very successful. CNN said the creators claimed the game, which is no longer available online, was played fewer than 19,000 times.
NEW: Russians released anti-Clinton video game weeks before the 2016 presidential election. One of the games levels: “Help Hillary delete as many classified emails as possible before she is caught.” https://t.co/5tkfHAFj1K pic.twitter.com/kSRD2hXgy4
— Donie O'Sullivan (@donie) March 8, 2018
A line-by-line analysis of the game’s code by CNN and several cybersecurity experts revealed that it was embedded with Facebook and Google tracking software, suggesting that the game’s creators could have been trying to track who was playing their game in an attempt to direct targeted advertisements their way.
On September 9, 2016, the websites Hilltendo.com and PlayWithHillary.com were both registered online, per the CNN report. Although the registration information for the former was hidden by a proxy, CNN was able to determine that someone named Aleksandr Skripnikov registered the latter from St. Petersburg, Russia.
The Internet Research Agency also operated out of St. Petersburg during that time.
Hilltendo featured three levels, according to CNN, which exhibited specific themes related to real controversies that plagued Clinton’s campaign:
- Level 1: A Clinton character glides across the screen as she tries to eliminate as many emails as possible without getting caught by the FBI
- Level 2: The Clinton character tries to collect as much money as possible as it falls down from flags of Arab countries, including Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Oman
- Level 3: An Obama character drops a copy of the US Constitution from the top of the White House as the Clinton character waits below to try to hit it as far as possible
Last month, Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russian election meddling, charged 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities, including the Internet Research Agency, with “violating US criminal laws in order to interfere with US elections and political processes.”
Mueller’s team is also looking into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia in their interference efforts, as well as whether Trump has obstructed justice during the course of the probe.