Pro-Trump Twitter troll Douglass Mackey wasn’t looking to trick anyone out of voting rights when he posted memes telling Hillary Clinton supporters to “vote from home” via text message in 2016, his lawyer Andrew Frisch told a federal jury in Brooklyn on Monday.
Instead, Frisch said, Mackey was trying to go viral, using his online influence and tens of thousands of followers to spread disruptive ideas aimed at throwing his political targets out of the game.
“Mr. Mackey didn’t share the memes as some kind of grand scheme,” Frisch said during opening arguments.
Mackey, 33, tweeted fake Clinton campaign ads, one depicting a black woman, another written in Spanish, with a text message number urging people to “skip the line” and vote by message. of text.
Federal prosecutors allege he conspired with online trolls to post the images as a way to trick people into not voting, crossing the line between free speech and criminal charges. Mackey used the Twitter handle “Ricky Vaughn.”
Frisch said that Mackey was simply doing what is called “posting shit,” in Internet slang, which he later sanitized for the jury as “posting stuff.”
“It means what it says: He was posting stuff,” Frisch said. “A lot of it was garbage online. Juvenile, sure, and some of it was vulgar.”
He added: “Whatever your reaction is when you hear his views…whether he was a great thinker or a Neanderthal caveman, you’ll see that none of it is proof of a criminal conspiracy.”
Federal prosecutors say Mackey went beyond profanity and political provocation when conspiring with other trolls to create the Twitter posts, and staged them to appear as real as possible.
“It was not about changing votes. It was about vaporizing votes, making them disappear,” said Assistant US Attorney Turner Buford.
Mackey ordered people to send text messages with a specific “short code” that he and his group “hijacked” from a tech company. People were urged to text the word “Hillary” to that number, Buford said.
“The number was real and it was configured to receive incoming messages,” he explained. “The release of these fake campaign ads was timed to flood the internet before Election Day.”
Mackey is charged with conspiracy against rights, which carries a 10-year sentence.
Frisch said Mackey posted the memes on Nov. 1, a week before Election Day, and that his message was ludicrous to anyone with a basic understanding of how presidential elections work: Voting by text would mean you could vote. without proving that you are of age or a US citizen, that you do not have to prove what state you live in, and that you can vote multiple times with multiple phones.
And within a day or two, memes were the topic of national news, prompting Mackey to post on Nov. 3: “That feeling when you post a random meme and it ends up on cable TV.”
Judge Ann Donnelly took over as presiding judge on Monday, after Judge Nicholas Garaufis tested positive for COVID on Sunday morning.
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The government put several witnesses on the stand on the first day of the trial, including Jessica Morales, Clinton’s 2016 director of digital organizing. The “vote by text” tweets were troubling enough that the campaign took immediate action, said.
“It is a very misleading graph. It is designed to look like it came from the campaign… This is designed to look like what we did,” he said.
Asked if he thought the tweets were a joke, he said: “No, it’s not a joke. Not for me. It is not a parody.
The campaign warned voters about the fake campaign on Twitter and through automated messages, according to Morales.