Social Media Influencer Charged with Election Interference

An American social media influencer has been charged with running a misinformation campaign that tricked social media users into believing that they could vote by text message in the 2016 US presidential election.

Douglass Mackey, aka Ricky Vaughn, was arrested yesterday morning on charges of conspiring with others ahead of the election to spread misinformation designed to deprive US citizens of their constitutional right to vote.

Mackey, of West Palm Beach, Florida, was charged by criminal complaint in the Eastern District of New York and released on a $50k bond. According to the complaint, the 31-year-old shared fraudulent messages encouraging supporters of one of the presidential candidates to vote via text message or social media, a legally invalid method of voting.

Among the misinformation allegedly shared by Mackey was an image shared on November 1, 2016, on Twitter that showed an African American woman standing in front of an “African Americans for Hillary Clinton” sign.  The image included the following text: “Avoid the Line. Vote from Home. Text ‘Hillary' to 59925[.] Vote for Hillary and be a part of history.” 

Fine print at the bottom of the image stated “Must be 18 or older to vote. One vote per person. Must be a legal citizen of the United States. Voting by text not available in Guam, Puerto Rico, Alaska or Hawaii. Paid for by Hillary for President 2016.”

At least 4,900 unique telephone numbers texted the name Hillary or some derivative to the 59925 number. 

In 2016, Mackey had approximately 58,000 Twitter followers. A February 2016 analysis by the MIT Media Lab ranked one of Mackey's Twitter handles @Ricky_Vaughn99 as the 107th most important influencer of the then-upcoming election. 

By comparison, NBC News was ranked #114, the Washington Post at #43, Vladimir Putin at #41, the musician Cher at #101, and Beau Biden at #63. 

“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," said William Sweeney Jr., assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office. 

"It is illegal behavior and contributes to the erosion of the public’s trust in our electoral processes."

What’s Hot on Infosecurity Magazine?