'Influencer' gets 7 months in prison for plot to interfere with 2016 US election

Florida man gets 4,900 people to 'vote' via SMS after promoting it as an option

Nearly 5,000 people sent in an SMS "voting" for Hillary Clinton after a man the US Office of Public Affairs characterized as a "social media influencer" promoted it as an option.

According to the Department of Justice (DoJ), Douglass Mackey, who is also known as Ricky Vaughn, was this week sentenced to seven months in prison and handed a $15,000 fine for trying to trick voters into believing they could vote by text message.

The Florida man (no, not that one) had faced up to 10 years for his scheme to deprive American citizens of their constitutional right to vote.

Breon Peace, US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said back in March when the verdict was handed down: "Mackey has been found guilty by a jury of his peers of attempting to deprive individuals from exercising their sacred right to vote for the candidate of their choice in the 2016 Presidential Election."

Peace added that Mackey's "fraudulent actions crossed a line into criminality" and said the verdict "flatly rejects his cynical attempt to use the constitutional right of free speech as a shield for his scheme to subvert the ballot box and suppress the vote."

According to the unsealed complaint [PDF], which included testimony from the FBI agents who investigated the case, Mackey worked with his co-conspirators, coordinating on social media to spread memes promoting disinformation about the 2016 US Presidential election. The election, for those struggling to recall, produced the famous shock political outcome where former Wrestlemania star and failed hotelier Donald Trump won on the Republican ticket against then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was the Democratic nominee.

The DoJ added:

... on November 1, 2016, in or around the same time that Mackey was sending tweets suggesting the importance of limiting "Black turnout," Mackey tweeted an image depicting an African American woman standing in front of an "African Americans for Hillary" sign. The ad stated: "Avoid the Line. Vote from Home," "Text 'Hillary' to 59925," and "Vote for Hillary and be a part of history."
The fine print at the bottom of the deceptive 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."

The tweet included the typed hashtag "#ImWithHer," a slogan frequently used by then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. 

The DoJ added that by Election Day 2016 – Tuesday, November 8 – at least 4,900 "unique telephone numbers texted 'Hillary' or some derivative to the 59925 text number, which had been used in multiple deceptive campaign images that Mackey and his co-conspirators tweeted."

Slacking off

Mackey at the time had around 58,000 Twitter followers and a February 2016 analysis by the MIT Media Lab ranked Mackey as one of the most significant influencers of the then-upcoming presidential election.

But arguably that influence would be felt less on today's Twitter X.

Speaking of who does and doesn't have social media influence, X this week hit the point where even ubiquitous work IM platform Slack isn't bothering to send status updates to a dedicated Twitter account.

It said in a post this week: "We have made the decision to retire this account. Moving forward, the Slack Status site, https://status.slack.com, will be the source of truth for all incident news."

Slack said the move was in aid of focusing resources on "incident communication platforms" that are "widely used by our customers" [sick burn – Ed].

The Salesforce-acquired platform will continue to maintain its main account, @SlackHQ.

While some complained the move would "break the status monitoring tooling and processes for a great many," Pragmatic Engineer scribe Gergely Orosz commented that the move made sense, noting that: "Recent changes to Twitter make several former use cases impractical going forward. Maintaining a product status updates Twitter account is one of these.

He added: "Tweets cannot be embedded; only shown for logged in users; no free (or cheap) API to automate it. Slack did the rational."

Recent lawsuits have put a number on how many staff were let go at Xitter – according to several complaints, just 1,300 out of the 7,500 employees formerly looking after Twitter are still there – meaning Elon Musk would have cut over 82 percent of all workers.

The Tesla CEO was also said to be considering pulling out of the EU this week over its attempts to regulate the social media platform via the bloc's Digital Services Act. ®

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