Jan 27, 2021 - Technology

Twitter troll charged with 2016 election interference

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Photo: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Justice Department charged a pro-Trump former Twitter user with election interference for posts encouraging users to vote via text in the 2016 election.

Why it matters: The DOJ believes this is the first criminal case charging an American with suppressing the vote via disinformation on Twitter.

Details: Douglas Mackey, 31, who was known on Twitter as "Ricky Vaughn," was arrested Wednesday morning and accused of conspiring with others to use social media platforms to spread misinformation ahead of the 2016 election.

  • He allegedly led a campaign telling people they could vote for Hillary Clinton simply by texting a certain phone number.

Mackey, who was revealed to control the Ricky Vaughn account by the Huffington Post, had 58,000 followers and was named by MIT Media Lab as one of the top influencers ahead of the 2016 election.

  • According to prosecutors, the disinformation campaign led to at least 4,900 unique phone numbers attempting to vote by phone.
  • The complaint does not identify the conspirators, but the New York Times reported one of them is Anthime Gionet, the far-right figure known as “Baked Alaska" who was arrested for his involvement in the Jan 6 attack of the U.S. Capitol.

What they're saying: "There is no place in public discourse for lies and misinformation to defraud citizens of their right to vote," Seth D. DuCharme, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York said a statement.

  • "With Mackey’s arrest, we serve notice that those who would subvert the democratic process in this manner cannot rely on the cloak of Internet anonymity to evade responsibility for their crimes."
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