Oct. 18 (UPI) — The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday announced that a former social media influencer has been sentenced to seven months in prison and fined $15,000 for his role in a conspiracy to illegally influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
The influencer, Douglass Mackey, who went by the Twitter handle Ricky Vaughn, used Twitter and other media platforms to spread fraudulent messages targeting supporters of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
DOJ officials say Mackey encouraged Clinton supporters to “vote” via text message or social media, which is legally invalid, then recruited and conspired with other influential Twitter users and private online groups to assist in the effort.
“By 2016, Douglass Mackey, aka Ricky Vaughn, had established an audience on Twitter with approximately 58,000 followers. A February 2016 analysis by the MIT Media Lab ranked Mackey as one of the most significant influencers of the then-upcoming presidential election,” the Justice Department said.
The department said in early November 2016 Mackey was sending tweets stressing the importance of limiting “black turnout,” one of which depicted a Black woman standing in front of an “African Americans for Hillary” sign. The ad stated: “Avoid the Line. Vote from Home,” “Text ‘Hillary’ to 59925,” and “Vote for Hillary and be a part of history.”
Federal prosecutors have said Mackey’s actions purposely spread false information with the intention of preventing people from voting.
Mackey was charged in the Eastern District of New York, accused of conspiring with others in 2016 to deprive people of their ballots through encouraging them to vote using text message or social media, both of which are illegal.
“The defendant exploited a social media platform to infringe one of the most basic and sacred rights guaranteed by the Constitution: the right to vote,” said Nicholas L. McQuaid, acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s criminal division.
Prosecutors allege Mackey, a supporter of former President Donald Trump, of operating at least three Twitter accounts to spread disinformation.
Prosecutors said at least 4,900 people attempted to text their vote to the number shared by the Twitter accounts associated with Mackey and his co-conspirators.
“What Mackey allegedly did to interfere with this process — by soliciting voters to cast their ballots via text — amounted to nothing short of vote theft,” William F. Sweeney Jr., assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York field office, said. “It is illegal behavior and contributes to the erosion of the public’s trust in our election processes. He may have been a powerful social media influencer at the time, but a quick Internet search of his name today will reveal an entirely different story.”