Free Speech Under Attack: Social Media Star Convicted Over Election Meme

Douglass Mackey, a well-known social media personality with more than 58,000 followers, has been sentenced for sharing a meme during the 2016 election. He has been convicted for conspiring to prevent individuals from exercising their right to vote by promoting a method to vote for Hilary Clinton via text message. The legal community is worried about the potential consequences of Mackey's conviction on freedom of expression, as it relied on a broad interpretation of the Conspiracy Against Rights statute. This legislation could have significant implications for other types of speech, including humor and falsehoods in political campaigns.

According to Aaron Terr, the director of Public Advocacy for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), while fraud can be punishable under the First Amendment, it is uncertain whether Mackey's actions would be classified as fraud in a legal context. Furthermore, even if they were, the Justice Department used a statute that expands beyond fraudulent speech. This statute criminalizes conspiring to "injure" or "oppress" someone's exercise of any constitutional right, effectively broadening the law to include areas where the government may utilize its authority to suppress the lively public discourse that is critical to our democratic system.

Terr cautions that Mackey's conviction might discourage others from participating in satire. The purpose of the First Amendment is to safeguard false speech since individuals do not want the government to prosecute them for employing satire or exaggeration, or to utilize the guise of combating "misinformation" to target dissenters. There is a possibility that this type of prosecution could prevent others from engaging in satire since they may fear that the government will fail to grasp the humor.

Andrew Frisch, Mackey's lawyer, expresses confidence in their ability to appeal and overturn his client's conviction. Mackey was taken into custody in January 2021, and it has been reported that approximately 4,900 people texted the number he publicized in the run-up to the 2016 election. The maximum sentence for conspiring to deprive others of their right to vote is ten years in prison. Mackey's conviction has raised concerns among legal experts regarding the US government's curtailment of free speech protections.

Written by Staff Reports

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