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This is the first in a series of short articles that are intended to help grassroots activists better utilize social media websites. These are the definitive and comprehensive guides for progressives. Every week after the Intro, there will be a new guide published about how to more effectively use Reddit, Digg, StumbleUpon, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Other Sites, and on Advanced Strategies.

Social Media is going to be one of the central battlegrounds in the 2012 election cycle in the US. The corporate right understands this very well, and they have invested mass sums from their war chest to send in legions of mindless astroturfers to try to control content aggregation and spin. It is essential for genuine grassroots supporters of real change and reform to take an active role on this front to fight back. If you believe that all men and women are created equal, that every person deserves to start out on a level playing field in life to succeed or fail on their own merits, if you believe that science, reason, education, and truth are valuable in this world, and that freedom requires ordinary people to stand up and fight, then these guides are for you.

It is more important than ever for progressives to take an active role across the social media spectrum. The internet in general and all tech-savvy folks are far more likely to tilt left, and that has been used with great success since 2004 to spread center-left issues and debunk right wing lies. Starting in December 2008, right wing corporate front groups began invading social media en masse. Their methods have grown more sophisticated since then, like using automated software to handle hundreds of sock puppet accounts. There is a massive amount of astroturfing from the Tea Party, anti-science groups, so-called patriot groups, the the military-industrial complex, federal security contractors, and anti-environmental groups. This is all meant to create the illusion of popular support for theocratic, corporate, or imperial forces that are actually not supported by a majority. Anti-authoritarian progressives like us need to redouble our efforts to counter this manipulation.

The Social Media Solar System
There are generally two tiers of social media: the larger websites with more traffic (Reddit, Digg, StumbleUpon, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+) and the smaller, more personal websites (Newsvine, Slashdot, Fark, Chime, MetaFilter, etc.). Within the realm of social media, there are also different types of sites:

Social News
Social Bookmarking
Social Networking
Social Blogging

Social news sites like Reddit, Digg, Newsvine, Slashdot, Fark, Chime, and MetaFilter are places to post and discuss the latest headlines. They the primary focal point for activism. Social bookmarking sites like StumbleUpon, Delicious, Diigo, etc. are places where longer news has a role, but longer term topics do better. They are also not very social. Social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, and Linkedin are the most social but not the best aggregators of good content. Miscellaneous sites like Disqus, YouTube, Quora, etc. combine various aspects in an original way. Social blogging sites like Tumblr, Blogger, Posterous, Care2, the Daily Kos, etc. provide a unique method to add your own input and focus your message.

The chart at the beginning reflects the overall user base of the main social media sites discussed in this series. The 2-dimensional values are based on various sources, run through a magic algorithm, adjusted by my whims, and not meant to be taken as literal figures. There is exponential growth in communication technologies in the world, including social media communities. Facebook projects 1 billion users this year (up from 6 million in 2006) and other sites are rapidly expanding as well. This means social media will play an increasing role in activism for the foreseeable future, and is an essential vehicle to get onboard.

The key to any social media activist is to invest a large amount of time initially to build a strong, loyal network on the big sites. The larger the following base you have, the greater impact your work will have. Eventually, anything you share will generate hundreds to tens of thousands of page views and hopefully shape and focus the larger debate. Consider everything you have done prior to this moment as prelude. This is your starting point.

Before You Begin
Start by creating a simple but catchy username. While you can certainly use your real name and in fact will get more respect if you do, most activists wish to protect their personal identity. While you may think that using your real birth name is fine since you have nothing to hide, remember that our opponents are not kind, rational, respectful people. They thrive on fear, anger, hate, and conflict, and if you are really bold in confronting their disinformation, propaganda, and lies, they will stalk, harass, and even threaten you. That is their nature.

Think of a username that demonstrates your core beliefs with a humorous twist like FreedomDonkey, Johnalicious, SirSpeaksAlot, ScienceMonkey, peacetronaut, etc. Something short, sweet, and easily recognizable. Google search your preferred username first to make sure there is not already someone using it. Avoid underscores and symbols at all costs, although a number that looks like a letter embedded in the text can work (for instance eth3real or 5ecularist). There is nothing more annoying than someone with a confusing username like 111111rogerdg7241, diepalatidescapesinMB, yNgREdIL, or Pl#bius_Harrring_9.

Then chose a visually appealing avatar. Search around a bit for it. It should be something memorable with a strong contrast that looks great when it is tiny, as most Social Media websites only allow for ~150x150 pixel avatars or less (sometimes as small as 20x20px). It should be something that stands out, a uniform expression of your identity that people will be able to recognize the instant they see it. After you sign up for your email address, put your avatar on Gravatar to save time from having to upload it on every site you register for.

To keep your activities more anonymous, you can use a proxy like Hide My *ss one. You can also install TOR (free) or pay a small monthly sum to have a professional service do it. Just be forewarned that this will slow down your activity and some snoopy sites like Facebook may force you to log back in and sometimes verify your identity by various means if they see different IP addresses being used.

It should be noted at this point that if you would like separate your activism from your personal accounts, rather than constantly logging out and back in, just use a different browser. You can set up all of your activist accounts on Firefox, then use Chrome for everything personal or vice versa (Safari, IE, and other browsers can also be used, but are more cumbersome). Some social sites strictly prohibit multiple accounts however (Digg, SU, FB, and G+) while others do not (Reddit and Twitter), so check with each site first so you do not violate any rules.

Next you should set up your primary activism email account through any free email service on the internet. Gmail is preferable for compatibility. Also consider opening identical email addresses at Yahoo! and other free email hosts. Then go sign up at Reddit, Digg, StumbleUpon, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, using the exact same username and avatar. Fill in some personal details on your profile page. Link and list all of your accounts to each other so folks can know where you are active and can follow you everywhere.

The final thing to do before you get started is download and install the Shareaholic add-on/extension for your browser. This gives you a button in your url bar that makes it easy to share content on Reddit, Digg, SU, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and many more social media sites. Also essential is the SU toolbar or add-on which takes up a bit more real-estate on your browser, but will ultimately be well worth it.

General Strategies
Phase I.  The initial strategy at this point is to invest a lot of time into building up your profile on every network. Don't submit much, but generally try to vote up at least 100 articles per day on social news/bookmarking sites like Digg and SU. Share 5-10 links per day on social networking sites like Twitter , Facebook, and G+. Don't worry about following/followers or generating traction at this stage, you need to spend at least a month just clicking buttons on stories you like to build up your profile before there is potential to link up with other progressively oriented activists. Explore and become familiar with all of the functionality on every social media website you use.

Phase II. While future articles will describe how to proceed on each specific social media website in detail, in general after about a month, you can start to focus on making connections. At this point you should have noticed other like-minded individuals on each site. Begin to send a few friend requests with a personal message (if that option is available). For the next month or so while in Phase II, you don't need to read/vote on as many articles across the social media spectrum as you did on Phase I, but still engage in this process. Stay active.

To help yourself get noticed, craft a good brief comment that you can copy and paste on every social media site for a particular article. For instance, you've found a good story on corporate tax dodgers on Think Progress. Write a reply on TP (most sites use Disqus, so link that to your Twitter and/or Facebook account), then you can copy/paste that same reply to Reddit, Digg, Facebook, G+, etc. Comments get you noticed, but don't get lured into long debates yet. That is the biggest time suck on social media, and you still have work to do.

Phase III. While keeping your activism diversified across a wide range of social media sites is extremely important both for message impact and to hedge your bets, this is the stage where you should pick one or two sites to focus on more heavily. Rather than being a mid-level user across the board, be a rockstar on one or two social media sites and a mid-level user everywhere else. You can now start to engage in longer discussions on the comment streams, both to get a deeper understanding of various issues and to hone your messaging skills. Also bookmark important citations for future discussions. All of the hard work you put in during the first two phases should now start to pay off, but be mindful that this is a long path towards the horizon. There are no shortcuts to being a genuinely organic grassroots activist.

Avoid Pitfalls
There are different strategies to social media activism, but the methods outlined in these manuals are the quickest paths to become an influencer who can have a strong impact. This requires having a presence on multiple sites, connecting with a large network of friends who actually listen, broadcasting a clear message on a diverse set of issues, and building up a respected reputation.

Many progressive social media activists fall into a few common traps that prohibit them from becoming more influential. For instance the numerous content sharers that submit everything they find to every social media site. While aggregation is essential to retaining a responsive network, if you share everything under the sun, it drowns out the key messages and people will stop paying attention. Worse still, important news stories and analysis articles shared this way will usually get absolutely no traction what so ever. This is usually wasted effort, and in the case of Digg can actually be counter-productive as it prevents those who can actually get traction from doing so on that article.

Another trap is to get sucked too deep into debates. Understand that about 20% of the population does nothing other than spew talking points from the corporate right. They will deliberately waste your time, try to bait you into saying something foolish to try to get you banned, and never be convinced of anything reasonable or factually based no matter how clearly you explain things and how good your citations are. For all intents and purposes you can just block/ban these trolls and save your time, or just severely limit the amount of time you spend.

A third trap is to focus on only one social media site. While we all have time constraints, don't put all of your eggs in one basket. Sites wax and wane, and you might find that the site where you have devoted all of your time and energy suddenly suddenly declines, goes bankrupt, or disappears (e.g. MySpace, Propeller, Orkut, Mixx). Work on a variety of sites and be adaptable.

This series of guides will not spell out the basic functionality of each social media site. There are plenty of instructions either on the website itself or on previously written tech articles to learn the basic steps. This series is intended to be used by progressive activists who seek the most effectiveness for the least amount of required effort.

It should be noted that internet activism is important, but it also cannot replace real-world activism. In order to have an impact on your community, state, and nation, you need to make connections in real life, go to meetings, support reform minded candidates, and participate outside your castle. That being said, for progressive Americans and liberal people around the world who wish to fight for expanded freedom, human rights, equal rights for women, LGBT folks, and people of every color and creed, campaign finance reform, science, a separation of church and state, education, worker's rights, unions, peace, economic freedom, legalization, medical marijuana, health, social justice, justice, and real reforms for humanity, these guides should help you immensely.

There are some things in this world that are worth fighting for, and the internet is an important battleground. The Progressives Guide to Social Media series will give you the tools to get started.

Note- this guide is the culmination of 4 years of fun, work, and study, and was originally published by me yesterday here

Originally posted to novenator on Wed Feb 01, 2012 at 06:00 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Ask me questions (15+ / 0-)

    I'm here to help, and will be checking back to this post periodically, so feel free to ask any social media questions you might have.  I'll do my best to answer them.

    Note that this is just the first guide, and 8 more will be posted here on the Kos eventually.

    Bold Progressive. Deal with it.

    by novenator on Wed Feb 01, 2012 at 06:05:20 AM PST

    •  What do all the warnings mean? (4+ / 0-)

      For example, I wanted to make a comment at site X (I think it was TP) and I tried to sign in with my Twitter account. Then it told me if I did that I was giving the site the right to access my followers, the right to post to Twitter, etc. Huh? Not knowing what to make of this, I didn't sign in at all.

      Thanks in advance!

      •  warnings (0+ / 0-)

        They are just asking permission to sign in and link the two.  With trusted sites like Think Progress, just do it, there won't be any problems.  

        Be cautious on less well known sites (esp. marketing/spam/porn) because they might phish for information.

        Bold Progressive. Deal with it.

        by novenator on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 05:23:22 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Great info (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I'm glad you've put time into such a good set of posts; it's valuable information, especially going into the election.

      I've been on a tiny social networking site since 1994 (I'll wave "Hi" to Howard for you. :-)

      Facebook doesn't do it for me, and although I read a couple of friend's pages I have not gotten an account there. And won't.

      Twitter, though, is gobs of fun. Reading folks like kagrox, joshtpm, and pourmecoffee keeps me going.  I tweet very little but frequently follow points to source material and email articles to friends (especially those on the fence about an issue).

      The one I'm having trouble with is Google+. It's counterintuitive to me, and I'm having a hard time figuring out why I can't see some folks' posts even though we've added each other. The basic Circles idea is clear, but the details are not.

      I'd love a pointer to clear directions about how Google+ works.

      •  G+ (0+ / 0-)

        Google+ is just like a combo between facebook and twitter.  It has a rolling stream like twitter, but it's visual and interactive like FB.  Google has been connecting ALL of it's services very seamlessly, so G+ will continue to grow for the foreseeable future, and it might surpass FB eventually (depending on how corporate they get after their IPO).  90 million users now, projected to hit 400m by the end of 2012.

        Bold Progressive. Deal with it.

        by novenator on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 05:27:36 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Good start (13+ / 0-)

    Both Howard Rheingold and Ester Dyson were mentors of mine back in the early days of virtual communities.  One key point you've hit on is the need to build a following over a period of time.  The most egregious error that anyone can make is to jump into the middle of an established community of activists without first establishing their "virtual cred", which takes a bit of time.

    Being spread too thin between social media sites is an exceptionally easy trap to fall into.  As you noted, it's important to focus on a couple of venues, and let sharing software / programs catch the rest.  There is a large army of progressive activists online - pick your battlefield wisely, and stick with issues you're familiar with.  

    Subject matter expertise is important.  For instance, over the past 6 months or so, most of my social media focus has been on veteran's issues - and I'll be carrying this theme into the general election season to differentiate Obama from the GOP nominee on veteran's issues.  It's a single issue, but not only am I personally vested in the issue, I'm connected with other progressives who are, too.  Together, we can hammer on a potentially high value, niche issue that most GOP social media operatives won't bother with.

    One question - it sounds like you're intending this to be a series?  I'd be interested to read your thoughts on keywording comments, online postings (such as DKos diaries), hash tagging, and tagging in general.

    We're resigned to our collective fate because we've been conditioned to believe that this is as good as it gets.

    by Richard Cranium on Wed Feb 01, 2012 at 06:24:31 AM PST

    •  keywording (10+ / 0-)

      I think keywording is more on the advanced level.  To start off with, folks should just concern themselves with understand what social media is, what the branches of it is, and what each can do.  Once they get comfortable with it all, they can fine tune their methodology.

      This is part 1 in a series of 9, and social blogging (including communities like the Kos) will be covered in part 8: Other Sites.  A primer on hashtags will begin in the Twitter section (part 4).  

      Great thoughts overall Richard.  I've had to become very well versed on certain issues over the course of the last 4 years too, which usually starts by just trying to debunk right win lies and propaganda.

      Bold Progressive. Deal with it.

      by novenator on Wed Feb 01, 2012 at 06:37:05 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is fantastic. (10+ / 0-)

    Clear, concise, and as far as I can tell - I do social media consulting from time to time - entirely accurate.

    The only thing I would add is Klout; a lot of folks use it to track both overall impact across the social media universe and as an indicator of how we rank compared to our peers.

    "Newt Gingrich, who appears to be running mainly on rancor, the candidate of the I Want to Eat Mitt’s Liver Party."

    by MBNYC on Wed Feb 01, 2012 at 06:27:04 AM PST

    •  roger (9+ / 0-)

      I didn't want to overwhelm folks with the first guide, but Klout comes up in the Twitter section (part 5 IIRC), as well as other user analytical tools.

      Bold Progressive. Deal with it.

      by novenator on Wed Feb 01, 2012 at 06:38:35 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Let me tell you what I really like (12+ / 0-)

        about the idea of your series: a lot of us Progs have no idea how social media actually work. And if you can change that, even a little bit, you'll have made a real difference.

        There's a reason why there will be several Twitter/SocMed workshops at Netroots Nation this year. There's definitely a need.

        "Newt Gingrich, who appears to be running mainly on rancor, the candidate of the I Want to Eat Mitt’s Liver Party."

        by MBNYC on Wed Feb 01, 2012 at 06:46:55 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  NN12 (10+ / 0-)

          I've signed up to do a training.  In reality, I could do a dozen trainings on various sites and for different levels of experience, but want to go see some things while I'm there too!  

          I certainly agree that progressive activists have a hard time with social media, it's a complicated thing that is always changing and evolving (the SU transition in November for instance).  I tried to write these guides as how I would have liked to have had them when I was a novice.

          Bold Progressive. Deal with it.

          by novenator on Wed Feb 01, 2012 at 07:04:13 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Great. I need help with Twitter (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Spirit Dancer, marge, tundraman

            I signed up but don't like it too much.  I enjoy reading tweets and sometimes I re-post things. But I don't know the hash tags or any of that stuff.  

            I love Facebook.  What is google like?  People have invited me to it and Linked In, but I turn down the requests because I spend too much time as it is on Facebook, Daily Kos and our local newspaper comment section.

            ‎"When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative." (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

            by Sandy on Signal on Wed Feb 01, 2012 at 12:46:06 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  time management (0+ / 0-)

              is probably one of the biggest issues on social media sites.  Folks should focus on one social news site (Reddit or Digg suggested) and one social networking site (Twitter, FB, or G+), but have accounts at all of them and link them all together.  Stay on the Kos too, this is a nexus of progressive thought.

              Hashtags are just ways to categorize tweets, it's just like tags here on the Kos, but you put a # before the word.  Don't worry about them though.  A Twitter guide is coming in a few weeks which will spell out some tactics.  

              Bold Progressive. Deal with it.

              by novenator on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 05:20:45 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

        •  I hope those workshops will be clearly labeled (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          2thanks, Sandy on Signal

          I'd hate to go to one by mistake.

          Last year, there were several breakouts where the title and blurb looked interesting, but instead they turned out to be Twitter cheerleading.

          Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. -- K.Marx A.Lincoln

          by N in Seattle on Wed Feb 01, 2012 at 12:27:48 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  training (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            N in Seattle

            well, I don't have much experience with public speaking being a bit of a geek, but I know my sh*t and like to drink, so it should be fun and informative.

            Bold Progressive. Deal with it.

            by novenator on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 05:29:21 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  whatev' (0+ / 0-)

              Maybe Surely I'm just an old fogie, hopelessly behind the times, fully deserving of all your sympathy criticism for my inability to comprehend why this stuff is deemed so revolutionary, and my aversion to even wanting to comprehend it.  

              I can't decide whether "smart"phones or "social media" is more uninviting to me.  Not that I have any desire to make that decision.  Why bother?

              So I'll just remain in my antiquated bubble -- actually paying attention to my surroundings instead of staring obsessively at whatever bit of "technology" is in my hand.  I'll hang onto my wifi-less, internet-less, even camera-less cellphone as long as I possibly can.  I know that if it ever fails, I'll never again own a cellphone that's just a cellphone ... they'll no longer exist.

              Get off of my lawn...

              Ned Ludd

              Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. -- K.Marx A.Lincoln

              by N in Seattle on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 11:25:17 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  This is a great post! (I still wanna say diary) (8+ / 0-)

    Thank you.  

    I like the idea of creating a new profile for this purpose, and am taking that step now.

    For years, I've been on a few smaller sites honing the message.  Your diary inspires me to take it up a notch.


    Looking forward to more direction.  Thanks again.  Nicely done.

    ***Be Excellent To One Another***

    by potatohead on Wed Feb 01, 2012 at 11:19:05 AM PST

  •  Excellent post, excellent comments. (5+ / 0-)

    Tipped and Recked.

    I think DK5 should have a button in each diary which will automatically recommend all comments.

    I have recommended all those above.

    If you are a primary caregiver, you are disabled, and IFML could help you.

    by 2thanks on Wed Feb 01, 2012 at 12:41:52 PM PST

  •  Thank you for doing this series (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DawnN, Spirit Dancer, marge, tundraman

    I think social media has matured somewhat since 2008. If properly used, it can become a powerful platform for us going forward.

    At the very least we must not allow the Republicans to utilize social media better than we do.

    "There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.".. Buddha

    by sebastianguy99 on Wed Feb 01, 2012 at 12:48:22 PM PST

    •  agreed (0+ / 0-)

      The problem that we've learned on Twitter is that social media can fall victim to over-simplistic right wing talking points.  #tcot (the conservative hashtag) is HUGE compared to the various fractured progressive hashtags on the site, and it's difficult to debunk their propaganda.  

      I've found on all social media sites (or even in real life), it usually takes 3 voices of reason to contain the lies spread by one right wing nut job.  That's a hard ratio to keep up.

      Bold Progressive. Deal with it.

      by novenator on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 05:32:44 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Most informative piece (6+ / 0-)

    I am bookmarking it and emailing it to some friends.  Plus, will share it on Facebook.  

    My friends and I are emboldened because of Facebook.  We all share jokes and pictures mostly political and family stuff.  We also pass around petitions all the time.  I live in Tennessee, where there is plenty of horrible gay bashing taking place by our Republican legislators.  The news doesn't even bother reporting on it; yet, it is brought up all the time on Facebook.  People are adding their two cents to the conversation and our politicians aren't even aware of what is taking place.  

    I love social media.  It has brought me close to my  relatives and friends, who are Democrats.  We used to be isolated and feel bullied, but no more, I feel empowered.  

    Thanks, I want to learn more about it.  Will forward this to our Democratic Party Chair, too, and some candidates.  


    ‎"When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative." (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

    by Sandy on Signal on Wed Feb 01, 2012 at 12:56:22 PM PST

  •  Thanks for this. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Spirit Dancer, marge, tundraman, novenator

    “Wall Street owns the country. The parties lie to us, and the political speakers mislead us.” - Mary Elizabeth Lease, 1890. It's late. Occupy everywhere.

    by DawnN on Wed Feb 01, 2012 at 03:36:24 PM PST

  •  I "Like" this diary... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    If you haven't noticed, corporations know the value of social media.  If we are to advance our agenda and retard theirs we need to win the battle of Tweets and likes.

    Tipped and Recc'd and waiting for more!

    "What is being noticed is only an indication of what is being done." Albert Einstein 1954

    by tundraman on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 12:19:24 AM PST

    •  astroturfing (0+ / 0-)

      As noted in the article, the astroturf legions are getting far more advanced rapidly.  With some of the software developed by HBgary for instance, one person can control 50-100 accounts and just cycle between them all to artificially manipulate the 'like/thumbs' battle and to a lesser extend the comments sections.  The more grassroots folks we get involved, the easier it is to organically defeat this astroturf.

      Great comment tundraman.

      Bold Progressive. Deal with it.

      by novenator on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 05:36:27 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Rec'd, Tipped AND Hotlisted (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I am looking forward to this series.  

    And Part I is awesome!  I have just Googled my user id here and am now off to look for an avatar.

    I use "Lists" and "Groups" on FB to cull out the RW crazies in my family.  They never see my political posts, and hence never draw me into a debate.  Only those friends who are either progressive or 'independent' can see and comment on my 'activist-type' posts on FB.  This way I am not wasting my time, I am feeding info to progressive thinkers who may not be so active politically, and have a shot at influencing the fence sitters.

    I fall down, I get up, I keep dancing.

    by DamselleFly on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 03:33:17 AM PST

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