An anonymous internet personality primarily known by those on the alt-right became the #1 trending topic on Twitter this week.
On Wednesday, #FreeRicky rose to the top of Twitter, with thousands of users complaining about what had happened to a man named Ricky Vaughn. That isn’t his real name, but this political Twitter account has in recent months become quite popular, particularly among Donald Trump supporters.
The ban once again sparked a conversation about the extent to which Twitter should step in and issue bans, with some arguing that CEO Jack Dorsey is far too aggressive in censoring content he does not agree with, while others argue he isn’t nearly aggressive enough in protecting users, particularly women and minorities, from harassment.
Here’s what you need to know about the man at the center of this latest controversy, Ricky Vaughn.
1. He is a Popular Alt-Right Personality
Ricky Vaughn is popular among those on the alt-right, a movement whose members’ ideologies differ but who are generally united in their hatred of political correctness and love of Donald Trump.
The group makes heavy use of internet memes like Pepe the Frog and of trolling, i.e. deliberately saying outrageous things in an attempt to provoke. Sometimes this takes the form of innocent cartoons spread around social media for laughs, while other times it escalates into Twitter users with egg avatars spamming Jewish journalists with pictures of gas chambers.
The alt-right gained a significant amount of attention in August when Hillary Clinton mentioned the movement by name in a speech.
“This is not conservatism as we have known it,” Clinton said. “This is not Republicanism as we have know it. These are race-baiting ideas, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas, anti-woman – all key tenets making up an emerging racist ideology known as the ‘Alt-Right.’”
Ricky Vaughn is an avid supporter of Donald Trump, with the majority of his social media posts being related to the Trump campaign and with his profile picture featuring a red Make America Great Again hat. He has described himself as a “right-wing nativist,” according to The Daily Beast.
2. Nobody Knows Who He Is
Of course, Ricky Vaughn is not his real name. His profile picture on social media is a black and white image of Charlie Sheen’s character from the movie Major League wearing a Make America Great Again hat. Why’d he go with Ricky Vaughn as a pseudonym? There isn’t really a deep meaning behind it, as he explained in an Ask Me Anything on Reddit.
“It was just a good avatar at the time, simple and recognizable,” he wrote. “I didn’t expect that the account would become one of the Big Accounts.”
Vaughn has also said that he finds this anonymity to be freeing, although he believes that Donald Trump has made it more acceptable for people like him to voice his controversial opinions.
“But I feel that Donald Trump has sort of broken a spell, the spell of political correctness that was hanging over everyone’s heads, and I’ve been much more frank with my views in meatspace in the last three months, and it’s very liberating,” he said in an interview with Radix.
The idea of feeling liberated by total anonymity is part of what has driven many to 4chan, an internet community on which users have no screen names and no permanent accounts. Its politics board, /pol/, is one of the central hubs of the alt-right.
3. He Was Banned From Twitter on October 5th
Late in the day on October 5th, Twitters users discovered that Ricky Vaguhn’s account had been suspended.
It’s not clear at this time if there was any tweet in particular that lead to the ban, and Vaughn has said that he was not contacted by Twitter about it. He also said that he has filed a ban appeal and is waiting to hear back.
Twitter’s rules forbid abusive behavior, with its terms and conditions stating that “You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease. We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories.”
Ricky Vaughn has said that he believes in the creation of all-white communities and that he shuns interracial marriages.
4. After His Ban, #FreeRicky Began Trending on Twitter
At the moment, #FreeRicky is trending in the United States, with thousands of users complaining about the alt-right icon being banned.
Many of these people claimed that this was just the latest example of Donald Trump supporters and conservatives in general being censored by Twitter.
At the same time, others chimed in to thank Twitter for banning Ricky, saying that it is a great step towards addressing the social media platform’s issues with abuse and harassment.
Ricky Vaughn has previously spoken about what he deems to be internet censorship, speculating that the web will become increasingly less anonymous if Hillary Clinton is elected president.
“I think they will move to end internet anonymity,” Vaughn wrote in his Reddit Ask Me Anything. “You will need a government ID, like a driver’s license, to log on.”
After finding out that he was the #1 trend on Twitter, Vaughn wrote on Facebook, “Feels good man.” This is the catchphrase of Pepe the Frog, a cartoon that has been around as a meme for years but that has recently been used mainly by the alt-right. The Anti-Defamation League has declared it a hate symbol.
5. Twitter Has Previously Banned Alt-Right Icon Milo Yiannopoulos
This move comes three months after Twitter banned Milo Yiannopoulos, a Brietbart editor and another icon on alt-right internet communities. Yiannopoulos had mocked comedian Leslie Jones following the release of Ghostbusters, and Jones subsequently received thousands of racist tweets from Yiannopoulos’ followers.
The hashtag #FreeRicky is seemingly a callback to Yiannopoulos’ ban; when that news came out back in July, #FreeMilo started trending worldwide.
At the time, Twitter said that Yiannopoulos had been banned for violating the company’s rules that prohibit “participating in or inciting targeted abuse of individuals,” according to The Washington Post. Yiannopoulos claimed he did not target Leslie Jones and is not responsible for what his followers do.
At this time, Ricky Vaughn’s Facebook account is still active.