Douglass Mackey, a Twitter user who posted memes and misinformation throughout the 2016 election, was sentenced this week to seven months in prison. Mackey was originally charged in early 2021, was convicted in March of conspiring to deprive others of their right to vote, and faced up to 10 years in prison.
Mackey, who was known as “Ricky Vaughn” on Twitter, spent the months leading up to the 2016 election posting misinformation to his more than 58,000 followers and working with other Twitter users to figure out how to swing the election in favor of Donald Trump. Most of what Vaughn and others posted was just memes, and most of the activity was free speech covered by the First Amendment.
But one of Mackey’s tactics crossed a different line. A week before the election, Mackey and others began encouraging supporters of Hillary Clinton to skip the voting lines and vote by text message. (Which, to be clear, you cannot do. Voting by text is not a thing.) They also posted photos, made to look like they were paid for by Clinton’s campaign, of people holding signs with the same message and phone number.
Mackey told conspirators that the goal was to suppress turnout among Black voters and other minority groups. “Trump should write off the Black vote and just focus on depressing their turnout,” he wrote in one of the groups used to plan content strategy.
Roughly 4,900 people texted the number Mackey said they could use to vote
The original complaint said that roughly 4,900 people messaged the numbers in those posts with “Hillary,” or something similar, in the message. Mackey’s Twitter accounts were suspended several times, but “Ricky Vaughn” always seemed to find a way back onto the platform.
Prosecutors had asked for between six months and a year in prison for Mackey. The New York Times reports that Mackey’s defense had argued that he was no longer the person he was in 2018 and had reformed his actions; prosecutors said that only happened because he was outed by HuffPost. During the trial, some of Mackey’s co-conspirators testified against him, revealing how groups coordinated and planned their posts and memes for maximum impact on Twitter and elsewhere. Mackey, who testified in his own defense, said that he was only one of many people in these groups and that he was posting without much thought or consideration rather than as some grand scheme.
In March, when Mackey was convicted, US Attorney Breon Peace said, “Today’s verdict proves that the defendant’s fraudulent actions crossed a line into criminality and flatly rejects his cynical attempt to use the constitutional right of free speech as a shield for his scheme to subvert the ballot box and suppress the vote.”
Douglass Mackey, also known as “Ricky Vaughn” on Twitter, has been sentenced to seven months in prison for his involvement in posting memes and misinformation during the 2016 election. Mackey was charged earlier this year and convicted in March for conspiring to deprive others of their right to vote. He faced a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Leading up to the 2016 election, Mackey used his Twitter account with over 58,000 followers to spread misinformation and work with other users to manipulate the election in favor of Donald Trump. While most of his posts were protected under the First Amendment as free speech, one of Mackey’s tactics crossed a line. One week before the election, he and others encouraged supporters of Hillary Clinton to vote by text message, a method that does not exist. They also shared photos that appeared to be paid for by Clinton’s campaign, featuring people holding signs with the same message and phone number. Mackey admitted that the goal was to suppress turnout among Black voters and other minority groups.
Approximately 4,900 people messaged the numbers provided by Mackey to vote through text. Despite his Twitter accounts being suspended multiple times, Mackey found ways to return to the platform as “Ricky Vaughn.” Prosecutors had requested a prison sentence of six months to a year for Mackey. His defense argued that he had reformed his actions since 2018 but prosecutors claimed that this change only occurred after he was exposed by HuffPost.
During the trial, Mackey’s co-conspirators testified against him, revealing how they coordinated and planned their posts and memes for maximum impact on Twitter and other platforms. Mackey testified in his own defense, stating that he was just one of many individuals involved in these groups and that he posted without much thought or consideration, rather than as part of a grand scheme.
Upon Mackey’s conviction in March, US Attorney Breon Peace stated that the verdict demonstrated that his actions crossed the line into criminality and rejected his attempt to use the constitutional right of free speech as a shield to subvert the ballot box and suppress the vote.