DOJ: Social media influencer charged with interference in 2016 election
A Florida man who was an ardent supporter of former President Trump on Twitter was charged Wednesday with election interference after allegedly running a scam in 2016 that fooled thousands of people into believing they could vote via text message.
In a press release, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the arrest of 31-year-old Douglass Mackey, who went by the name “Ricky Vaughn” on Twitter in several now-deleted accounts.
The DOJ release details that Mackey allegedly conspired with others using Twitter to trick U.S. voters into believing they could cast valid ballots in the 2016 election via text message.
“According to the allegations in the indictment, the defendant exploited a social media platform to infringe one the of most basic and sacred rights guaranteed by the Constitution: the right to vote,” said acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas McQuaid in a statement. “This indictment underscores the department’s commitment to investigating and prosecuting those who would undermine citizens’ voting rights.”
A Twitter spokesperson confirmed to The Hill in an email that at least four accounts belonging to Mackey had been removed from the platform for rule violations. The company prohibits use of its services to share false information about elections and other civic activities.
“We permanently suspended the accounts at issue for violating the Twitter Rules. Consistent with our ongoing relationship and collaboration with law enforcement and government partners, we’ve worked closely with the appropriate authorities on this issue. Since the 2016 U.S. Election, we’ve made significant investments in our election integrity efforts and taken a number of steps to protect the online public conversation,” said the spokesperson.
The DOJ did not specify which candidate’s supporters were targeted by the scam, but archived images from that time show a number of Twitter accounts sharing images encouraging supporters of Hillary Clinton, Trump’s 2016 opponent, to text the same number included in the press release.
In one tweet highlighted by the Justice Department, Mackey’s account urged followers to “Avoid the Line. Vote from Home,” and to text Clinton’s name to a certain number in order to cast their ballot ahead of time.
The posts, which originated from several accounts, were reported at the time by a number of news outlets.
“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. It is illegal behavior and contributes to the erosion of the public’s trust in our electoral 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,” said the assistant director of the FBI’s New York field office in a statement.
Twitter has moved recently to implement large-scale account purges targeting those that regularly share disinformation.
Earlier in January, the company announced the suspension of roughly 70,000 accounts tied to the “QAnon” conspiracy theory following the violent riot at the U.S. Capitol that killed several people. The platform also permanently suspended Trump’s account following the riot for fear that his posts would incite more violence.
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