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Author Topic: The ethics of political discussion on social network sites
Greg Davidson
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I was "friended" on Facebook by a parent of one of my youngest son's friends. A week or so later, he (the parent) posted a Fox News story link with a verbal endorsement. Since he had friended me, and the story appeared on my desktop, I felt the right - and the need - to respond that I questioned the story's accuracy because of it's source (I also noted a specific quantitative error in the story). It started with a one line response just stating my skepticism of the article due to its source. The situation escalated, and I received responses from this parent that included the phrases "raving" [describing me], "Saul Alinsky", "tired old techniques of the left" but also the announcement that none of the specific points that I brought up would be "dignified" with a response. Within the day I was "defriended".

The most important thing in this situation was my son's friendship with this man's son, and if our interaction had caused any problems in that arena I would have gone an apologized to the other father. However, I also believe that silence in the face of propaganda can be treated as assent, and it was clear that this father started without the slightest concern that the material that he was posting might have engendered conflict.

What do the rest of you think?

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TomDavidson
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Heh. I have hundreds of Facebook "friends." Fully half of them are raving nutcases. I only engage 'em when I feel like it.
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DonaldD
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How exactly does the story 'appear on your desktop'? Is it just that you have visibility to it, or do other of your 'friends' have visibility to the story as well, and somehow linked to you?
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Viking_Longship
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I have a "friend" on facebook who is a fellow Orthodox and fellow Russophile. He's extremely anti-Obama and while I am not a huge Obama fan I don't like seeing him slandered. Still I realized that my response to one of his status updates was (surprise surprise) snarky and condescending, so I disabled the status updates from that young man.

While social networking is valuable in that it allows us to easily access eachother it might be best if we not always know everything on somone's mind if we know consistantly that said person will inspire us to act in ways that are less than friendly.

Not sure I'm helping but for what it's worth I think we all need to develop new manners to deal with the amazing amount of new media and resultant social situations we find ourselves in.

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LoverOfJoy
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Personally, I could see myself responding, too. However, I might have limited it a bit to hopefully have greater impact.

For instance, I might have said something like, "Hey, I just thought I'd pass on that I noticed a quantitative error in that story," [provide link or explanation] and then, "given this mix-up I'm not sure how much I can trust the rest of this article."

It may be a bit generous in your view to use the term "mix-up" but it may help the listener take your point without defensiveness (and maybe eventually come to the conclusion you do).

When you add that you don't trust it "because of it's [sic] source" you risk sounding like you're responding to an attack with a counterattack. He's more likely to respond in kind.

That said, some people will take offense at anything. For those people, I might make a correction once or maybe twice and then leave it at that. If it feels immoral to leave a propaganda piece unanswered, I'd recommend just putting that person's comments on hide, particularly if that person is less a friend than a friend of a friend (or in this case, father of a son's friend).

I've corrected a number of forwarded emails that were just plum inaccurate. Pointing them to snopes or another site along with an explanation has generally been responded to fairly well (usually some sort of "oops" email mea culpa).

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tonylovern
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right now i'm in the middle of reading "Lies And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them" by Al Franken. for some reason i can't bring myself to think that you're missing out by losing a fan of fox news as your friend.

don't feel bad. i've lost virtual friends over sillier reasons and had the people be perfectly sociable when i met them in person.

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bringer
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Tony,

Just a comment, the truth in general as I sift it. My focus would not be so much on "Lying Liars". This label connotates a label for someone who cannot help but lie, and can be counted on to lie, and is therefore not so hard to deal with or dismiss.

The hard ones are the ones who are mostly true but then slip in a plausible whopper. You know, like Al Franken.

Does his book address this/him?

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Greg Davidson
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quote:
i can't bring myself to think that you're missing out by losing a fan of fox news as your friend
But I do have good friends whose politics are not the same as mine (both further towards the left and the right).

That being said, I do not concern myself with this Facebook "friend" in terms of actual friendship; it's more a question of how to interact with a fellow citizen.

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Pete at Home
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quote:
Originally posted by Greg Davidson:
I was "friended" on Facebook by a parent of one of my youngest son's friends. A week or so later, he (the parent) posted a Fox News story link with a verbal endorsement. Since he had friended me, and the story appeared on my desktop, I felt the right - and the need - to respond that I questioned the story's accuracy because of it's source (I also noted a specific quantitative error in the story). It started with a one line response just stating my skepticism of the article due to its source. The situation escalated, and I received responses from this parent that included the phrases "raving" [describing me], "Saul Alinsky", "tired old techniques of the left" but also the announcement that none of the specific points that I brought up would be "dignified" with a response. Within the day I was "defriended".

The most important thing in this situation was my son's friendship with this man's son, and if our interaction had caused any problems in that arena I would have gone an apologized to the other father. However, I also believe that silence in the face of propaganda can be treated as assent, and it was clear that this father started without the slightest concern that the material that he was posting might have engendered conflict.

What do the rest of you think?

You know you can unfriend, right?
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Greg Davidson
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His last posting told me that I could unfriend him (I knew I could anyway), then evidently he chose to exercise that option himself. The thing is, his posting did not cause me harm, I just felt it needed to be refuted.
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tonylovern
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quote:
The hard ones are the ones who are mostly true but then slip in a plausible whopper. You know, like Al Franken.

Does his book address this/him?

actually, he does admit in the beginning of the book that some of the things he says aren't true. he calls them jokes.

i didn't mean to imply that i take anyones word as absolute truth, just that my current reading material frames my perception of right wing media.

i'm sure that were i reading a book about the lies of the left, i would be unconcerned with the opinion of someone that repeats a liberal bias as gospel.

thats just me. i dismiss my brother's opinions all the time just because he's predictible with his conspiracy theories.

though i suppose i do tend to get more irritated at republicans than i do democrats. i blame bush for that. we'll see where i'm at 7 years from now.


edited for the spelling mistake i noticed.

[ January 30, 2010, 09:39 PM: Message edited by: tonylovern ]

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Dave at Work
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Something to keep in mind is that Facebook and other social networking media are not political forums like Ornery is. You don't have to correct everything that shows up in your feed. If you are walking down a sidewalk and hear someone quote a political story that you disagree with are you going to stop and correct him? If not then why would you do so in a case like this? If you would stop and correct some stranger on the sidewalk, you probably need to rethink how you interact with others in general. You don't have to engage them, just hide the offending item in your feed or in the case of this casual of a contact disable his wall postings from showing up in your feed. Just my 2 cents, take it or leave it.
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Greg Davidson
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It's an interesting question, and I am not sure what the right answer is. In a world where our media sources are becoming more concentrated (so the tendency is to just listen with a group of like-minded people), what are the appropriate public fora in which ideas should be discussed.

The moral of "Gentleman's Agreement" from the 1940's was that responsibility for prejudice was not only with the bigots, but with the people who knew better but stayed silent. And the "PC" excesses of the 1970's/1980's were with people going around criticizing people for perceived shortcomings (with the assumption that they know better was was right and wrong). I'd like to avoid both of those paths, and I am not sure what the appropriate balance is. The slight difference between walking down the street and Facebook is that there is a non-random relationship between me and the person speaking. They are choosing to share political beliefs across that relationship (even if it is not a fully conscious choice). What is the appropriate response?

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The Drake
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You have to remember there is a difference between a posting and a personal message. Even a bulk forwarded email is more response-worthy (I get these from my Dad all the time, usually ranting about immigrants. The new ones, not his great-grandparents.)

If you saw a political bumpersticker on the Dad's car, would you take it up with him?

If you saw a political message on the guy's clothing at a little league game, would you question his point of view?

You're being a little excitable to equate a Fox news story with society destroying propaganda. From what you've written, your response also didn't invite discourse, you simply disparaged his news source and moved on. That's infuriating.

Also, just because something appears on your news feed doesn't mean you endorse it. It is clearly attributed to the original poster. Unless he specifically posted it on your Wall, which would be unusual. And very provocative to put a political posting on someone else's Wall.

There's generally no one correct answer. If the guy put up some neo-nazi hate literature, I'd be very much on your side of the equation. But you'd also prevent your kid from hanging out with the Hitler Youth. If you are comfortable with your child spending time at his friend's home, then you are implicitly declaring that the Fox News he might be exposed to is not so terrible.

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Greg Davidson
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It was a close case. It was not merely the story, there were a series of posted comments, including phrases like "the Obamessiah..." But I am not certain what I did was correct - it was pretty close to the borderline, at the minimum.
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kenmeer livermaile
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Aw, if they can't take it they shouldn't dish it out.
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TommySama
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If I had a nickel every time I lost a Facebook friend by being argumentative/a jackass.
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kenmeer livermaile
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"If I had a nickel every time I lost a Facebook friend by being argumentative/a jackass...."

...it still wouldn't be worth putting up with certain kinds of ignorance.

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TommySama
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I have too many friends, anyways. I've hovered around 400 for a few months. Its about time to alienate some people.
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kenmeer livermaile
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"Its about time to alienate some people."

You had me at alien...

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RickyB
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You were fine tho an easier option would be just to de-option the updates from this guy, in order not to risk blowback through the kid maybe.
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whitefire
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I once had a mass email through Myspace that I did some research into. It was supposedly a forward of a message from Focus on the Family the subject of which I don't remember.
I visited the supposed originator's website and found that they had their own section debunking this email.
When I directed the forwarder to this information I received a rude message suggesting I don't support XYZ cause like I should.
Anyway, the reason for telling this story was I was hoping that when I responded privately to the forwarder he would clear up the misunderstanding by forwarding the correct information to those who he sent the original information to. He chose to live with the lie rather than admit he made a mistake.
I think we have a obligation to correct "our own side (for lack of a better term for now" when they make a mistake. I did support the cause that he and the email was espousing, just not with lies and distortion. All that ends up doing is making our own cause weaker.
So that's my standard - I correct the distortions of my "side" - privately. It gives them a change to make things right and be responsible, and I get to see how they respond, as raving ideologues, or as responsible idealists.

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kenmeer livermaile
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Just as we best serve ourselves and others when we muster the effort (sometimes courage) to tell someone we love that we love them, I think we're also well served by telling someone to piss off when they're pissing us off.
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G2
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quote:
Originally posted by Greg Davidson:
His last posting told me that I could unfriend him (I knew I could anyway), then evidently he chose to exercise that option himself. The thing is, his posting did not cause me harm, I just felt it needed to be refuted.

The question is, why did you feel that way? What were you hoping to gain with this? What would have been the harm to just roll your eyes and move on?

You say the situation escalated. It only does that if you're responding to whatever the guy is sending you. If you had just ignored it, it would have dropped relatively quickly if not immediately. Did you really think you were going to effect some kind of change?

You engaged in something that escalated the situation because you thought the guy was helping distribute propaganda "without the slightest concern that the material that he was posting might have engendered conflict." Based on your posting history here, G2 bets you had your share of condescending digs in there too. G2 has a hard time seeing how you thought this could go anywhere but where it did. Perhaps you could have stuck to safer topics like abortion or religion? Maybe told him how to better raise his child? [Razz] Look, there's a reason you don't talk about politics or religion in polite company and you've just found it. That's what anonymous forums like this are for. [Cool]

You said, "The most important thing in this situation was my son's friendship with this man's son" but your choice to engage and continuing to engage the guy in an escalating situation indicate otherwise.

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kenmeer livermaile
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Any "friending" that can't withstand the mutual acknowledgment of another's beliefs is not a friending, and if the son's friendship is harmed by such intolerance then the friendship was already imperiled by someone's intolerance to begin with.

If more people had behaved like Greg in '30s Germany, perhaps the worst of Nazism might have been avoided.

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Daruma28
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If more people had behaved like Greg in '30s Germany, perhaps the worst of Nazism might have been avoided.

Ken, it's been quite awhile since I've had to deploy one of these in response to one of your quips...

[Roll Eyes]

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Pete at Home
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quote:
Originally posted by kenmeer livermaile:
Aw, if they can't take it they shouldn't dish it out.

ha
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kenmeer livermaile
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"Ken, it's been quite awhile since I've had to deploy one of these in response to one of your quips..."

Well, I said 'perhaps, and I said 'if more people', and I said 'worst...Nazism...avoided...'

This amounts to no more than a possible mitigation. I don't think it's irrational to suggest a connexion between increased individual ornery resistance to intrusive propaganda and reduced collective submission to same.

Btw, you "had to depoly (an EyeRoll)"? What, did someone email you a chainletter?

Resist, Daruma!

P.S. It wasn't a quip, but a sincere conjecture.

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stayne
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Personally, I think social networking sites are really not the place for such discussions. I think any number of people feel that their page is about them: their preferences, thoughts, etc. They are not really looking for debate, just introductions and very casual conversation.

I have friends who disagree with me on matters of substance. If we are alone or with other good friends, I am more likely to engage them in debate on such matters. In a group where there are people who are less familiar, I would avoid such a thing so as not to seem like I am trying to make my friend look stupid in front of people he doesn't know.

If you think about it, Greg, you called the guy out in public, and perhaps embarrassed him. While you might have thought of it as an opportunity for discussion, he might well have viewed it as rude.

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Greg Davidson
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quote:
Look, there's a reason you don't talk about politics or religion in polite company and you've just found it. That's what anonymous forums like this are for.
I may be in a small minority here, but this isn't an anonymous forum, it is a forum in which participants can choose to be anonymous. For myself, I find the experience in participating in civic discourse is enhanced by going without the mask of anonymity. Maybe it does keep me on better behavior, because I know that I will have to stand behind my words, and any errors will be in my name.
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kenmeer livermaile
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GregD, regarding the furious facebook father, I still say: **** 'em if they can't take their own joke.
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Pete at Home
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quote:
Originally posted by Daruma28:
If more people had behaved like Greg in '30s Germany, perhaps the worst of Nazism might have been avoided.

Ken, it's been quite awhile since I've had to deploy one of these in response to one of your quips...

[Roll Eyes]

It's possible that a few more brave souls would prevented some of the damage. It's also possible that there simply would have been more bodies. The Nazis were quite efficient at detecting and eliminating potential opposition. Not to mention Hitler seems to have been freakishly lucky with some of the assassination attempts. Sad to say, some of those that did the most good were folks that pretended to be orthodox Nazis by day, while hiding Jews in their basements, or carrying out missions for the resistance. Even sadder is that quite a mumber of these brave Resistance fighters were so good at their cover story, that they were lynched for being Nazi collaborators when the war was over.

But I guess the statement might still be eye-roll worthy .... it's hard to imagine what political issue that we discuss today that really deserves to be compared to resisting Naziism. Health care reform? Same-sex Marriage?

As far as we know, maybe Hitler really did waltz onto the political stage while everyone smart enough to see him for he was, was too busy making grand and noble political battles over relative trifles.

[ February 03, 2010, 12:39 AM: Message edited by: Pete at Home ]

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Greg Davidson
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I would say that we are not anywhere close to the Nazi-scale here... But the example from Gentleman's Agreement about not adequately resisting conversational discrimination may closer to an apt analogy (note, I am not saying that my comments about Fox have anything to do with discrimination, that's just an analogy, and also the presumption for this argument is that I am right in my concerns - if I am clearly wrong in contesting these views, then my behavior is not justified).
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TommySama
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"In a group where there are people who are less familiar, I would avoid such a thing so as not to seem like I am trying to make my friend look stupid in front of people he doesn't know."

I asked somebody what they thought of government the other day. He responded, "that's kind of private."

If you post something online, for all your 'friends' to read, its fair game. If you end up looking like an idiot, its your own damn fault for announcing your bull**** in front of dozens or hundreds of friends and acquaintances (and other undesirables, like family members).

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kenmeer livermaile
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"(and other undesirables, like family members)"

Just call me Wendy, you Lost Boy. [Wink]

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kenmeer livermaile
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NSFW
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stayne
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Tommy, lets say you and I are friends hanging out at a bar or coffee shop to try and meet chicks. We're talking to some chicks, and you make a comment about some of you political views that I disagree with. I press you in debate, telling you how wrong you are. Now maybe we have a friendship where that is cool, but maybe you get ticked at me and question if I am much of a friend for wrecking your chances of hooking up with a chick. It could be either way, which is why lots of people avoid such discussions unless it is obviously wanted.

And bear in mind, maybe the guy doesn't think he is wrong. If these things were so clear cut, there would be no parties, no discussion boards, etc. There would be the One True Way, without any controversy.

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kenmeer livermaile
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Tommy's friend is way lame for bringing up politics while trying to pick up chicks. The chicks roll their eyes, Tommy knows it's already over, nothing left but to tell his friend why any woman still married to a man who cheated on her 10K times AND thinks he's blacker than Obama is gonna lose to Obama.
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stayne
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Even so, Ken, I got plenty of friends who say stupid ****. That's no excuse to bust their chops in mixed company. Friends first, politics a way distant second IMO.
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Michelle
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quote:
Originally posted by Greg Davidson:
It was a close case. It was not merely the story, there were a series of posted comments, including phrases like "the Obamessiah..." But I am not certain what I did was correct - it was pretty close to the borderline, at the minimum.

I don't know, Gregg. I'm speaking somewhat ignorant here, (I have no facebook page) but I was under the impression there is a difference between, an internet blog, where opposing comments may be welcomed, and a facebook page, which is usually viewed as the owner's (of sorts) personal space.
I think the question you should ask yourself is: How do you feel about openly engaging sophomoric behavior?

Remember: The term 'unfriend' was Oxford's word of 2009, for a reason.

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