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Billboards with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Photo: Chris J. Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Before Washington Post Columnist Jamal Khashoggi died after a fight broke out between him and people who met him at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, he was targeted by the Saudi government through social media, reports the New York Times.

Why it matters: Khashoggi was attacked daily by Twitter trolls because of his dissenting views of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's regime and the way he ran the country. However, interviews and evidence from the Times' expansive report show Khashoggi was one of many targets of the prince as part of a broad effort to silence the country's critics.

The details: Saudi operatives began harassing critics on Twitter after the platform became popular in 2010 during the Arab Spring uprisings.

  • The effort was organized by Saud al-Qahtani, the Times reports, who was one of Salman's top advisors before being fired on Saturday after the country confirmed Khashoggi's death.

Officials developed a "troll farm" in homes and offices around Riyadh, where hundreds of young men discussed and searched for dissenting voices to silence on Twitter. They compiled names into lists of people to "threaten, insult and intimate," the Times reports.

  • Employees were sent memes they could use to mock dissenters "akin to the cartoons of Pepe the Frog that supporters of President Trump used to undermine opponents," the Times writes.
  • They at times reported posts from dissenting users as "sensitive material" to Twitter in an effort to silence critics.

Khashoggi had come up with a strategy to combat trolls before he was killed. He formed a volunteer army of Twitter users, called "Electronic Bees," to push back against trolls.

One key quote: "The mornings were the worst for him because he would wake up to the equivalent of sustained gunfire online," Maggie Mitchell Salem, a friend of Khashoggi's for more than 15 years, told the Times.

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
28 mins ago - Economy & Business

Filings show Sweetgreen isn't profitable, despite claims

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Restaurant chain Sweetgreen on Monday filed to go public, and revealed that it lost money in each year since 2014.

Why it matters: The company lied when it repeatedly told reporters it was profitable.

U.S. border cities again see low violent crime rates

Expand chart
Data: FBI, Kansas Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Reported violent crime in the United States rose in 2020 for the first time in four years, but violent crime rates in 11 of the largest communities along the U.S.-Mexico border stayed below the national average, an Axios analysis found. 

Why it matters: Year after year, data showing low violent crime rates in majority-Mexican American and Mexican immigrant border communities dispels myths of the U.S.-Mexico border as a region filled with crime and chaos.

Biden to Dems: This is my make-or-break moment

President Biden walks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after addressing the House Democratic caucus on Thursday. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden told the House Democratic caucus Thursday "my presidency will be determined" by the votes he wants in the next week on his $1.75 trillion social safety net expansion and $1.2 trillion infrastructure package.

Driving the news: Biden made the comment, according to a source in the room, as he tried to rally support for the $1.75 trillion package. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acted immediately, calling for a vote on the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill later in the day.