US arrests far-right Twitter troll for 2016 election interference

The case could set a precedent for how the federal government handles online election tampering.

Joshua Roberts / reuters

In a case that could set a precedent for how the US handles election-related misinformation moving forward, the Justice Department announced the arrest of infamous far-right troll Douglass Mackey on Wednesday. Better known by his online handle of Ricky Vaughn, Mackey is accused of using Twitter and other social media platforms to try and disenfranchise people of their right to vote.

In the lead up to the 2016 election, Mackey and a variety of collaborators used memes to mislead people into thinking they could cast their vote over social media and text message. The DOJ said at least 4,900 unique phone numbers sent their votes to the 59925 number Mackey told people to message.

Outside of that ploy, Mackey tried to influence the election in other ways. At one point, he had more than 58,000 followers on Twitter, and the MIT Media Lab found he was more influential than the likes of Stephen Colbert and NBC News when it came to the 2016 election. That same year, Twitter banned him, along with a variety of other prolific alt-right accounts at the time, for harassment.

“This indictment underscores the department’s commitment to investigating and prosecuting those who would undermine citizens’ voting rights,” said Nicholas L. McQuaid, the acting assistant attorney general of the agency’s Criminal Division. The arrest is the first major example of the Justice Department taking on online election tampering. Thus far, the federal government has mostly left Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies to enforce their platforms on their own.