Douglass Mackey, also known as the social media influencer “Ricky Vaughn,” has been sentenced to seven months in prison for his role in disseminating false information during the 2016 presidential election.
Mackey convinced supporters of Hillary Clinton that they could cast their votes through text messages or social media posts, an act that violated the law.
Mackey’s prosecution took place under the Ku Klux Klan Act, a historic legislation enacted during the Reconstruction era in response to the KKK’s efforts to obstruct the voting rights of newly emancipated Black individuals.
Prior to his sentencing, U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly denied Mackey’s request to have the verdict set aside or be granted a new trial. In 2015, Mackey, then 26 years old, took on the online persona of “Ricky Vaughn” on Twitter. He quickly gained notoriety, amassing 51,000 followers, and was considered one of the “most influential voices” discussing the 2016 presidential election, according to a list compiled by M.I.T.
Federal prosecutors in New York asserted that Mackey’s primary objective was to generate chaos and controversy by originating hashtags aimed at undermining Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.
Mackey’s actions culminated in a tweet posted at 5:30 p.m. on November 1, 2016, falsely claiming that people could vote by sending text messages. This tweet was followed by several others in which Mackey continued to spread this false narrative.
One tweet featured an image of a Black woman standing in front of a “African Americans for Hillary” poster, with the message: “Avoid the line. Vote from home,” along with a text number to use. Another tweet displayed an image of Clinton with the tagline, “Save Time. Avoid The Line. Vote from home,” along with the text number.
The hashtags #ImWithHer and #GoHillary were also used in other tweets as part of Mackey’s scheme.
The defense argued that Mackey’s text-to-vote scheme was not convincing enough to deceive anyone, and they noted that the timing of his tweets, just one week before Election Day, suggested no deliberate intent to mislead voters.
“The defendant weaponized disinformation in a dangerous scheme to stop targeted groups, including black and brown people and women, from participating in our democracy,” said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace. “This groundbreaking prosecution demonstrates our commitment to prosecuting those who commit crimes that threaten our democracy and seek to deprive people of their constitutional right to vote.”