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Twitter influencer sentenced for trying to trick Clinton supporters into voting by text

Matei Brancoveanu/500px/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — Douglass Mackey, the social media influencer known as “Ricky Vaughn,” was sentenced Wednesday to seven months in prison for falsely assuring supporters of Hillary Clinton they could cast their vote in the 2016 presidential election through text messages or social media posts.

Mackey was prosecuted under the Ku Klux Klan Act that was enacted during the Reconstruction era in response to efforts by the KKK to prevent recently emancepated Blacks from voting.

Ahead of Mackey’s sentencing, U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly denied Mackey’s attempt to set aside the verdict or be granted a new trial.

Mackey was 26 years old in 2015 when he began posting on Twitter under the pseudonym “Ricky Vaughn,” amassing 51,000 followers on Twitter and ranking among the “most influential voices” posting about the 2016 presidential election, according to a list compiled by M.I.T.

Federal prosecutors in New York said Mackey was intent on originating hashtags designed to “cause as much chaos as possible” by creating “controversy … for the sole purpose of disparaging Hillary Clinton.”

At 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 1, 2016, Mackey published the first tweet that falsely announced that people could register their vote by texting on their phones, according to trial testimony. Additional tweets followed.

According to court records, one tweet featured an image of a Black woman in front of a poster for “African Americans for Hillary,” with a message saying, “Avoid the line. Vote from home,” along with a number to text.

Another tweet featured an image of Clinton with the tagline, “Save Time. Avoid The Line. Vote from home,” with the text number.

Other tweets included the hashtags #ImWithHer and #GoHillary.

The defense argued that the text-to-vote scheme could not have fooled anyone, and that the timing of Mackey’s tweets a week before Election Day refuted the claim that he meant to trick 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.”

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