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Twitter troll faces 10 years in prison for spreading vote-by-text hoax

You can not cast a vote by sending a text

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

The United States Department of Justice announced today that it has charged a Twitter user who allegedly spread misinformation during the 2016 presidential election using Twitter.

Douglass Mackey of West Palm Beach, Florida, is accused of conspiring with others to spread election misinformation in 2016, which was designed to deprive individuals of their constitutional right to vote. He has been charged with violating the civil rights conspiracy statute and, if convicted, will face up to 10 years in prison.

The complaint alleges that between September 2016 and November 2016, Mackey (who used the alias “Ricky Vaughn” on Twitter) spread fake information to his followers, trying to convince voters that it was possible to cast their vote by sending a text message.

According to the complaint, Mackey was associated with numerous pro-Trump group chats, including one under the name “War Room,” where several individuals shared ideas on how they could influence the 2016 election, according to prosecutors. One such example included an internet “Draft our Daughters meme,” which shared false information implying that if Hillary Clinton was president, she would support making women eligible for the draft. The complaint also details that in September 2016, 4,900 unique telephone numbers texted their votes to a number Mackey promoted on social media.

Twitter suspended Mackey’s account several times for violating its terms of service. But on three separate occasions, Mackey returned with a separate account linked to the Ricky Vaughn alias.

Mackey remained anonymous until The Huffington Post identified him in a 2018 exposé. Mackey’s alias was ranked among the top 150 influencers of the 2016 election, ranking 107, according to an analysis conducted by MIT’s Media Lab.