Fact Check

Will Pokémon in Pokémon GO Scream if Within a Mile of a Sex Offender?

A claim that the augmented reality game's "Pokémon" character will scream when within a mile of a sex offender came from a humor web site.

Published Aug 3, 2016

"Pokémon" in Pokémon GO will scream whenever a player is within one mile of a registered sex offender.

On 28 July 2016, the satirical site Clickhole reported that after Niantic issued an update to the popular Pokémon GO app, Pokémon characters in the game would scream when players approached within one mile of any registered sex offender:

There’s no denying that Pokémon Go fever is sweeping the world, but its innovative real-world gameplay has already raised real-world safety concerns for its players. That’s why the game’s developer, Niantic, just went above and beyond with their latest update: Pokémon will now scream when players are within a mile of a registered sex offender!

Awesome. Now everyone can become a Pokémon master without fear!

The new patch seamlessly integrates data from the national sex offender registry with Pokémon Go’s augmented reality gameplay, keeping players safe without obtrusive pop-ups. Any wild Pokémon that you encounter within a one-mile radius of a known sex offender now let out a full-throated howl through your phone’s speakers, letting you know to stay alert on your quest to catch ’em all.

Many confused the satire with reality on 2 August 2016, after New York's governor Andrew Cuomo announced that registered sex offenders in the state were banned from playing the augmented reality game as a condition of their sentences:

The new restriction, which will apply to nearly 3,000 sex offenders currently on parole, comes after a recent report by state Sens. Jeffrey Klein and Diane Savino. Over the month since Pokémon Go has been available for download, they showed that children have been found to encounter the properties and surrounding areas of sex offenders' homes.

New York state bans sex offenders on parole from using social media. It also has an agreement with 40 social media and related technology companies that allows it to update these companies with weekly records of registered sex offenders for social networks to ban. But with Pokémon Go, the agreement doesn't hold up.

Although the mobile game allows users to interact with others also playing at the same time, it's not considered a social media platform. Cuomo sent a letter to Niantic, the game's developer, offering it one of these partnerships, as well as the most updated sex offender data.

"Software developers that operate mobile games like Pokémon GO should be entitled to the same information that is regularly shared with companies like Facebook, Apple and Microsoft," the governor said in the letter.

It's probable that some readers confused the real-life news about Gov. Cuomo's Pokémon GO ban for sex offenders with Clickhole's satirical article. However, nothing Clickhole publishes is intended to be taken seriously. The site is a spinoff of The Onion, launched in 2014 to parody clickbait sites such as Upworthy:

We strive to make sure that all of our content panders to and misleads our readers just enough to make it go viral. You see, we don't think anything on the internet should ever have to settle for mere tens of thousands of pageviews. We believe that each and every article — whether about pop culture, politics, internet trends, or social justice - should be clicked on and shared by hundreds of millions of internet users before they can even comprehend what they just read.

Before the marginally believable Pokémon GO rumor, Clickhole inadvertently confused readers with claims that George Clooney maintained an open tab at Chipotle for everyone to obtain free burritos, Beanie Babies were full of spider eggs finally hatching after many dormant years, comedian Adam Sandler correctly predicted five tragic events, the Supreme Court ruled cops could no longer engage with members of the public in any fashion, Gwyneth Paltrow starved to death after attempting the week-long "food stamp challenge," a Texas man underwent a horrifying eye enlargement procedure, and Johnny Depp enrolled in medical school to save a sick child battling cancer.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.

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