The Shocking Meme Conviction & Its Potential Aftermath

( – Last week a man named Douglas Mackey was convicted and may serve up to ten years in jail for posting “memes” online during the 2016 election. The memes posted under his Twitter alias “Ricky Vaughn 99” were intended as a joke, directing people to text their Hillary votes and provide a number. The joke memes seemed to be a clearly protected First Amendment speech but the Department of Justice indicted Mackey claiming he conspired “to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person … in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution.”

The conspiracy the government claims was between Mackey, other social media influencers, and members of private online chat groups. Mackey who is from Florida was tried in New York’s Eastern District. Breon Peace, United States Attorney said Mackey was found guilty by a jury of his peers for in part attempting to “deprive individuals” of their voting rights. The trial did not feature anyone who claims not to have voted due to this meme. It should be noted left-wing social media influencer Kristina Wong posted an almost identical meme directed at Trump voters in 2016 and has not been charged in any manner and her tweet remains on the site.

Legal scholars worry this sets a dangerous precedent, they claim First Amendment exceptions usually pertain to fraud which there is no clear evidence of in this case. Director of Public Advocacy for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), Aaron Terr said “It’s not clear” Mackey committed any fraud. He clarified that fraud usually entails someone making false statements to obtain something of value from someone else. Terr also pointed out the DOJ stretched an old statute claiming Mackey ‘oppressed’ or ‘injured’ people. He said this statute doesn’t really relate to speech and may set a very dangerous standard going forward. Terr further noted the could have people believe satire is criminal. Douglas Mackey’s attorney, Andrew Frisch is “optimistic” about his appeal case.

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