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.”