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Censorship, trolls, and criticism

By seebs in Culture
Tue Feb 05, 2002 at 09:12:18 PM EST
Tags: Freedom (all tags)

Do we take criticsm well? How do we distinguish between reasoned inquiry and random trollishness?

Is groupthink a real danger to online communities?

In an idle moment, I posted to a Slashdot article, asking how much Miguel de Icaza gets paid to like .NET. I'm mostly joking... but only mostly. Certainly, everyone I've ever talked to who has looked at Microsoft's design says it's pretty bad. No one credible has told me that it's solving any problems... so there's a certain amount of room for questioning what's gotten Miguel de Icaza so convinced that it's the solution; the only possible way to move forwards.

Now, on the one hand, that's trolling. On the other hand, it's a question with the potential for repercussions. How would you feel if you found out that, for instance, Miguel de Icaza had received some amount of money from Microsoft? Would that change your opinions? If so, why?

Kuro5hin and Slashdot are both vulnerable, within reason, to groupthink. A post that hits hot buttons can be voted out of sight very, very, quickly. My impression has been that K5 is less vulnerable to this; moderation is more likely to reflect quality of argumentation, and less likely to reflect opinions.

A friend of mine did some early research work on collaborative filtering. The idea is, you rate things (the most obvious application, so far, has been movie reviews), and then the system predicts which ones you will like, not just which ones are generally popular. One of his colleagues expressed concern that this could harm free inquiry. If you simply tend not to see opposing viewpoints, how do you learn?

I think this is a real problem. Even though I like to think I'm rational, I'm quite confident that I'm more likely to vote down a pro-MS troll than a pro-Linux troll. I may simply not perceive the one that agrees with me as "a troll".

How do you resolve this? Do you look for hidden or low-rated comments? Do you go out of your way not to mod down comments you disagree with? What checks and balances do you use, to keep your mind from calcifying?


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Asking whether de Icaza is being bribed is...
o An interesting question 24%
o Sorta funny 26%
o Obvious trollish behavior 18%
o Contrary to Lord Bill's instructions 27%
o Other (please explain) 3%

Votes: 65
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Slashdot
o Kuro5hin
o Also by seebs

Display: Sort:
Censorship, trolls, and criticism | 31 comments (29 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
How I try to handle it (4.20 / 5) (#1)
by RareHeintz on Tue Feb 05, 2002 at 04:38:47 PM EST

I know I probably don't do this perfectly, but when I see a post, and I'm thinking of rating it, I try to detach the rating from how strongly I agree or disagree, and if I disagree, I post a reply. Sometimes I will actually refrain from rating and move straight to the replying part because I can't, in good conscience, give an offensive but well-written article a high rating, but also can't give it a low rating based on whether I agree.

Anyway, that's what I try most of the time. YMMV.

- B
http://www.bradheintz.com/ - updated kind of daily

Re: How I try to handle it (4.80 / 5) (#16)
by Anoymous 22666 on Tue Feb 05, 2002 at 07:48:27 PM EST

I think that you just hit the nail square on the head.

What I do is very similar to what you do. I'll read a posting, and when I go to rate it, I (try to) detach myself from my opinions and my ideas. I re-read their post from an objective position. I look: Is it well-written? Does it make a point? Even if I think they are a moron, do they make a point well? Does it add to the discussion?

I pointedly try to avoid groupthink. I go so far as to avoid looking at the average rating of the post before I rate it.

I just farted... And I blame the fiction section. - Psycho Les

[ Parent ]
Turning off seeing ratings... (5.00 / 2) (#20)
by chipuni on Tue Feb 05, 2002 at 10:30:30 PM EST

You know... I think that it would be an excellent idea for us to have the choice of whether to see ratings. Especially for some people (like me) who like to rate every comment in discussions that I like.

Oh, god. I just realized that I wrote a "me too" post.
Perfection is not reached when nothing more can be added, but only when nothing more can be taken away.
Wisdom for short attention spans.
[ Parent ]

Great Idea (none / 0) (#29)
by Anoymous 22666 on Wed Feb 06, 2002 at 02:14:08 PM EST

Yeah, that is a great idea... Do you want to write the article or should I? :-)

I just farted... And I blame the fiction section. - Psycho Les

[ Parent ]
The Other Site is, but not inherent (3.60 / 5) (#2)
by rhdntd on Tue Feb 05, 2002 at 04:42:52 PM EST

I think with their moderation system, there is a real matter of groupthink on a majority of recurring themes on slashdot. I've seen it for years. OTOH I don't see it elsewhere, so I think it more supports the idea that doing moderation (and karma) that way supports hegemony. I think the medium itself can resist, and I certainly haven't seen it be a problem here. Unless there are yet more opinions that are rated straight down to 0 so I'm not seeing them, I see healthy discussion here.

"book chicks really seem to like anal"
  — Lady 3Jane
This would be editorial, except... (3.33 / 6) (#3)
by seebs on Tue Feb 05, 2002 at 04:45:17 PM EST

... that the question of where this went, and why, turns out to be mildly topical.

I posted this to K5 because I posted a half-joking remark about how much de Icaza is getting paid to like .NET, and it got modded down to 0 on Slashdot *instantly*. So, I started thinking, gee, that's odd. Even if it is sorta flamebait, it's a tough question; we shouldn't run from questions like that.

The interesting thing is, there's no way to post a question about the ethics or consistency of the slashdot community on slashdot. It'd just get modded down for being trollish. So, I discuss it here, instead.

Well, at least I'm getting my $5 worth this month.

I feel... (3.66 / 6) (#9)
by Trollificus on Tue Feb 05, 2002 at 06:04:14 PM EST

...kind of bad for you.
I posted a comment on /. about Miguel stealing people's hubcaps, and was promptly modded up as funny.
The problem with Slashdot is that most people there couldn't spot a troll if it bent them over a table and fucked them in the ass.
Seriously. People there are so used to being trolled that they're over-paranoid about anything that doesn't follow the clique. You know what I mean? Well, that guy sounds like a communist! Let's mod him down! God forbid he have opinions of his own. He MUST be trolling!
I've posted legit comments with other legit accounts, and have been modded down as a troll. Maybe it's because I have my own opinions. Maybe it's because my comments were a little unbelievable? Hardly. If you consider writing about my experiences in 3d game design trolling, then I guess I'm a troll. If I were to say that I worked at Id software (which I don't, for the record), I would be modded down as a troll. If I DID work at Id, then they would still mod me as a troll. Afterall, what would someone from Id software be doing posting on Slashdot, right?
The point is, you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. Which is exactly why I don't go to Slashdot much anymore.
Although K5 does have it's little annoyances, the topics are MUCH broader in range. And the general attitude of people around here doesn't make me feel like I want to be an ass just for the sake of being an ass. I actually enjoy the people here. =)

"The separation of church and state is a fiction. The nation is the kingdom of God, period."
--Bishop Harold Calvin Ray of West Palm Beach, FL
[ Parent ]

About your poll (2.53 / 13) (#4)
by core10k on Tue Feb 05, 2002 at 04:45:32 PM EST

It's pretty obvious that this Gnome guy is a suck-up to Microsoft; he interned there, he's practically sucking on COM and .NET cock, and he never even considered Java even though Java is here and it's real.

He just wants to get a good job at Microsoft when he graduates from University, he doesn't give two shits about Gnome unless it furthers his job prospects.

You may well be right... (3.00 / 4) (#6)
by seebs on Tue Feb 05, 2002 at 04:48:36 PM EST

My last run-in with his weird Microsoft groupie nature was when he was talking about how wonderful IE's component architecture was.

I sorta find myself wondering if maybe he *has* that Microsoft job already, and his job is to make a huge, bloated, windowing system that's flashy enough to attract people, and eat up some of the performance gap.

Probably not, but it's sure a spooky concept.

[ Parent ]
PS I'm not anti-Microsoft (2.00 / 2) (#7)
by core10k on Tue Feb 05, 2002 at 04:50:52 PM EST

I live Microsoft consumer software. It rocks. Just, Java makes more sense if you're talking about the future of open-source (a topic which actually doesn't really interest me very much.)

[ Parent ]
Not an online problem (4.33 / 6) (#5)
by notafurry on Tue Feb 05, 2002 at 04:47:32 PM EST

This is a problem with the way people think, not with online communities. People automatically rate up comments that they agree with, without stopping to consider the actual quality of the conversation. We do the same thing offline; you associate mainly with people you agree with, and avoid people you don't.

When you're rating conversations and comments, please consider the actual quality of the comment, not the point the poster is trying to make. We all think of trolls as a lower form of life for spewing garbage in conversations; well, when you ding a comment for not agreeing with you, your behavior is as destructive as trolling. Call it "orcing". Unfortunately, orcs can't be ignored; they don't go away, they simply carry on while blandly bleating about how annoying it is there are no good conversation sites anymore.

not the droids you're looking for (3.00 / 3) (#14)
by dr k on Tue Feb 05, 2002 at 06:52:23 PM EST

Do not concern yourself with how others make rating decisions. Rather try to find a mechanism that is useful regardless of the irrational behavior of comment raters. If you can't even find a bare majority that agrees on a rating, you just have a bunch of noise.

Destroy all trusted users!
[ Parent ]

Quality defined by the community (4.57 / 7) (#8)
by Torgos Pizza on Tue Feb 05, 2002 at 05:31:13 PM EST

The quality (and quantity for that matter) all depends on the community that is built around the system to submit, moderate and comment upon. Slashdot is primarily a Linux news site with a very large news base. Because /. was built upon this base, the articles are moderated with a slight skew towards Linux. The site has already established a mild bias or groupthink towards this issue.

Take another side with comments. Let's say a Quake fan site. Here we have a website dedicated to all that is Quake. Any comments posted will have a positive slant towards Quake, and those against it will be moderated down. A US news site will have positive comments leaning towards our government, while posters not from the US of A will tend to be more neutral or anti-American.

K5 for that matter is not immune to the phenomenon. Many users fled Slashdot having had a bad experience or seeking something more fulfilling. Naturally, this had a negative feeling that grows towards The Other Site.

How do you avoid this? It can be difficult at times. If I were to post a "I love John Romero" comment at Fatbabies.com, I can't expect to get a lot of positive replies. You have to tailor your comments and behavior towards the site audience. Some sites are more tolerant than others. You also have to get to know the people around you and notice the judgments they make.

That being said, How do I make K5 a better place? Well, I make it a point to read in nested mode so I can read all the comments (exception 0) regardless of their ranking. Also, I look for well thought out commentary regardless of position. I may not agree, but if it's got some meat on the bone, I'll vote it up. But I also try to do my part by writing and responding to the article, not the person. I realize that I need to set an example for others to follow.

I intend to live forever, or die trying.

SlashDot... :( (3.00 / 1) (#21)
by gidds on Tue Feb 05, 2002 at 11:09:09 PM EST

I don't think the problem with SlashDot (in particular) is the Linux bias.  (If it was, there'd have been lots of posts supporting the question!)  The problem with SlashDot seems to be the whole attitude: it's become shallow, aggressive, and closed-minded.  I wouldn't be surprised to find that the average age of those posting is < 20; many seem to have yet to learn some basic online courtesy, let alone open-mindedness or even good English...  (Sorry, I don't meant to be quite so ageist - I'm still in my 20s myself!)

I suspect the incentives for posting quickly (more eyeballs, comments, mods, etc.) contribute to this.  Reasoned debate seems to have gone out of fashion.  It's a shame; SlashDot used to be an extremely useful site, and I used to read it avidly, but recently I've tended to scan replies quickly, only reading a few, as most don't seem worth my time.  Ah well, sic transit gloria mundi, as someone pretentious once said...

[ Parent ]

fascinating question (4.00 / 4) (#10)
by fhotg on Tue Feb 05, 2002 at 06:09:08 PM EST

My impression has been that K5 is less vulnerable to this; moderation is more likely to reflect quality of argumentation, and less likely to reflect opinions.
./ is already "gone', if it's about voicing any ideas pertaining to the MS - open blah paradigm, if this idea somehow, anyhow, isn't in favour of the latter. It's just not possible, as you correctly observe.

Even though K5 seems to get moderated in a more impartial manner, that is people actually trying to be impartial, it's just a matter of degree. Even though you try, opinion always slips into moderation. On K5, at least most controversial issues have nearly equal support from both sides, that keeps it from collapsing.

Do you go out of your way not to mod down comments you disagree with? What checks and balances do you use, to keep your mind from calcifying?
I try to avoid voting comments which I don't agree with. Those I vote down must have a quality I would vote down even if I would agree, for example consist of personal attack, be completely offtopic without indication how you got there, obviously violate basic logic. I don't claim this always works, don't slap me with my votes now.
Do you look for hidden or low-rated comments?
If there was an easy way to do this, I would search for comments which have high and low votes, cause these tend to be the more interesting ones.
Gitarren für die Mädchen -- Champagner für die Jungs

Oh, that's a very good idea. RUSTY! (4.16 / 6) (#11)
by seebs on Tue Feb 05, 2002 at 06:18:57 PM EST

Rusty! Store comment vote variance, and let us sort by that. I would have a lot of fun reading comments with high variance, I bet.

[ Parent ]
Variance (none / 0) (#28)
by rusty on Wed Feb 06, 2002 at 01:17:08 PM EST

Sorting by "variance" has been suggested since the beginning, as a measure of "controversy". It's a cool idea, and I'd like to do it. Unfortunately, it's more of an amusement than a serious feature, IMO, and we have way too much stuff to work on already. As always, patches accepted, though if you're going to muck with the comment sorting bits of Scoop, better sacrifice plenty of chickens beforehand. Here there be Dragons. :-)

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Funny... (4.00 / 4) (#15)
by Gorgon5 on Tue Feb 05, 2002 at 06:55:22 PM EST

I posted a similar thing here about Miguel selling out to the evil empire, and about how people I had talked to had described .NET as a nightmare...

It was meant to be entertaining, but I got some pretty vitriolic responses about how I didn't know what I was talking about, how .NET was dreamy, etc...

Much as it is irritating, I think you just have to live with the fact that some people have knee-jerk reactions to certain topics and that those people often have no desire for rational discussion.

I just try to ignore those kinds of comments...

Interesting! (3.00 / 4) (#17)
by seebs on Tue Feb 05, 2002 at 09:00:51 PM EST

The interesting thing is that the community is squelching these. Heh. Perhaps we should get paranoid, and see if the people voting the stories and comments down are *themselves* involved with MS.

It's not unheard of; MS was rigging online polls a while back.

[ Parent ]
Certainly didn't deserve to get marked *up* (4.00 / 3) (#18)
by mech9t8 on Tue Feb 05, 2002 at 09:16:54 PM EST

If you just posted "I wonder how much he gets paid to support .NET?", that's a troll. It's unoriginal, it's not particularly funny, and you're probably the hundredth person to post that on Slashdot.

If, on the other hand, you posted a reasoned argument along the lines ".NET is sooooo bad, I think there must be financial incentives for him to support it" and actually posted some intelligent arguments to support that position, that's different. That's an actual constructive comment.

(Oh, and I don't know who you consider "credible", but there have been many intelligent arguments on why the .NET CLR is a beautiful environment, including one written by Miguel himself. I've used it, and it's great. Now, that's not the topic of this discussion, but just throwing out lines like "everyone I've ever talked to who has looked at Microsoft's design says it's pretty bad" like it's a given is just distracting from your main topic of discussion, and makes it look like your comments *deserve* to be rated like a troll.)

IMHO, of course. ;)

I dunno about that... (3.00 / 3) (#19)
by seebs on Tue Feb 05, 2002 at 10:05:46 PM EST

The distinction between a troll and a serious comment isn't solely one of the amount of research I'm willing to type into a little box on a web page.

As to the other issue: The underlying concern I have, of course, is that independant of any other technical issue, I don't think it makes the slightest bit of sense for anyone but Microsoft to use a framework over which Microsoft has creative control. Microsoft has consistently, and without exception, used any API control as a blunt instrument with which to destroy potential competitors. Willingly opening a project to this strikes me as outright insane.

Secondly, I'm not convinced that .NET is really a good idea. You've used it, and you say it's great. Is it so insanely great that no other thing in the world could be considered as an alternative? If that's what you're telling me, I just plain won't believe it without evidence; it contradicts all previous experience and data.

[ Parent ]
Um... (4.00 / 1) (#22)
by mech9t8 on Tue Feb 05, 2002 at 11:35:44 PM EST

The distinction between a troll and a serious comment isn't solely one of the amount of research I'm willing to type into a little box on a web page.

No, it's how much you're contributing to the conversation - or if you're just trolling or saying "me too!". Consider the hypothetical comment "How much is Miguel getting paid to support .NET?" Is it particularly insightful? No. The idea's been said a million times before. Is it particularly interesting? Is any new information provided? Is it funny? No, no, not really.

Can it provoke interesting discussion about the .NET framework? Of course not. It'll provoke comments "Yeah! The evil empire is buying him out!" "No! .NET rules!" No one's going to bother writing an intelligent counterpoint to such a comment.

Now, on the other hand, if you had put your two whole "underlying concern" paragraphs as a comment, someone who was interested could (a) learn some reasons why integrating Mono and Gnome isn't a good idea (even if they have been said before), and (b) could offer counter-arguments.

But the points in those fairly well spelled out paragraphs are covered neither by "How much is he getting paid?" nor by "I have some friends that said it sucked!" If you really wanted to back up your previous statements, you could have at least expanded on what problems your friends had with it instead of abandoning that track and switching to the "don't want to give control to Microsoft" argument. But switching your arguments makes it look like you're making up the "I heard it sucks" argument.

Similarly, if you really wanted to support the case that Miguel is getting paid to support it, you could go to the Mono web page - where he explains why he likes it - and point out how his arguments are weak.

Anyway, as I said, I'm not particularly interested in the whole .NET/Mono debate. Just trying to offer some insight into why people might think you're trolling...

[ Parent ]

Thanks! (2.50 / 2) (#24)
by seebs on Wed Feb 06, 2002 at 12:48:31 AM EST

You have some very good points there, I appreciate that. I guess it's hard to tell an off-hand thought from a troll. It hadn't really occurred to me until this latest round that this was starting to stretch credibility, but maybe people who are paying more attention spotted it sooner.

(I already wrote off GNOME, et al., as too insanely bloated to be of the slightest interest.)

[ Parent ]
$0.02 (4.66 / 3) (#23)
by webwench on Wed Feb 06, 2002 at 12:04:39 AM EST

As someone who is pretty new to Slashdot posting and even newer to Kuro5hin posting (lurked for a while before establishing an account), as well as moderator on another discussion site, I can tell you that I found this site a much more hospitable place for discussion.

I'm not trying to help this discussion degenerate into rival-bashing, but I'll note some of what I found inhospitable to discussion:

  • /.'s public disclosure of karma: Although their own FAQ page says 'don't take the karma seriously, it's just a number', it is most definitely taken seriously because (1) it's displayed, and (2) your karma level can so drastically alter your posts' visibility that it becomes important if you want your posts to be read. I've never seen so much blatant karma-whoring in my life.
  • /. is *very* unforgiving: My first post on /. was modded down as a troll and offtopic, which was a shock because it was a serious comment. My karma, starting at the newbie 0, dropped to below zero, rendering my posts practically invisible. I almost dropped the account right there.
  • Replies to existing /. posts are discouraged in several ways: (1) overuse of 'offtopic' modding; (2) everyone knows that 'top-level' posts are more visible, while replies get rated less often; (3) fear of being redundant; especially the fear that you're repeating what's been already said, then modded down, by others on the same thread; (4) Once a topic has 100 or so replies, not only do moderators stop reading through all the posts, but the posters, knowing this, stop posting to it and wait for the next article.
  • I find /. to be overly Linux and UNIX-centric, and also so hard-core-geek-populated that less-geek topics are spurned, which means variety is kind of low (and grouthink is enforced);
  • /. story posts seem to be tossed for no discernible reason, often within seconds and apparently without being read; here, the story submitter is rated by peers, gets feedback immediately, and can see how his rating is faring and why.
  • There are so many weird conspiracy theories running through /., like allegations from users who think they are 'blackballed' in a special list; threads that are blanket-moderated offtopic or troll; people who think they ought to be moderators but aren't; people who submit stories, have them killed, then see the same story posted a day or two later, etc. Basically, Mulder's seeing UFOs everywhere, and some of them may be real.

None of these criticisms qualify as censorship in my book, but it makes the site less fun, which is, let's face it, the reason I'm on these sites; to have a good discussion, to learn a little, and to have fun on the way.

Good post :) (none / 0) (#27)
by spiralx on Wed Feb 06, 2002 at 10:45:39 AM EST

You've pretty much expressed my thoughts about /. in your post, which is probably why I don't read it so much any more. However I disagree with one point - the last one.

There are so many weird conspiracy theories running through /., like allegations from users who think they are 'blackballed' in a special list; threads that are blanket-moderated offtopic or troll; people who think they ought to be moderators but aren't; people who submit stories, have them killed, then see the same story posted a day or two later, etc. Basically, Mulder's seeing UFOs everywhere, and some of them may be real.

That's the only reason /. is fun! /. may be many things, but it's never dull at -1. Although as author of the /. troll HOWTO, I may be biased ;)

You're doomed, I'm doomed, we're all doomed for ice cream. - Bob Aboey
[ Parent ]

Rating and Accountability (4.00 / 1) (#25)
by Ranieri on Wed Feb 06, 2002 at 04:49:55 AM EST

One of my (completely serious) comments on another story recently suddenly dropped from a "4.5/4" to a "3.6/5". Intrigued by this sudden decline I had a look at the moderation totals and, sure enough, I had been awarded a "0".
Now I can laugh this off. I have mojo to burn and hardly use my TU abilities anyway. Upon checking his rating history however, I found out he had zeroed a total of five comments with legitimate content in less than two days.

It was then that I decided to try and contact him and try to explain that that's not what the "0" rating is for.
The FAQ says "A good guideline to determine whether you should rate a comment at all is to ask yourself whether you could explain your rating if asked to do so. " That was exactly what I intended to do.

I briefly pondered various ways of getting in touch with him. Having quickly ruled out an open (and offtopic) confrontation in an active discussion he's posting to, and the obnoxious "***** ATTENTION XXXXX ******" diary entries a-la JCB, i figured the only acceptable way would be to post in his most recent diary story. Unfortunately he no longer reads that particular story, or has decided to ignore me alltogether.

My question to you is: is there any way to hold people accountable for ostensibly flawed moderation? Should there be?
Flawed comment moderation systems and misguided moderators are the whole reason I sought refuge on this site. I really would like to prevent this from happening here too.
Taste cold steel, feeble cannon restraint rope!

Another Level of Moderation? (none / 0) (#30)
by Anoymous 22666 on Wed Feb 06, 2002 at 02:26:00 PM EST

Here's a suggestion:

Add another level of moderation. Above "trusted users" have "super-trusted users" that have the ability to nullify unfair moderations by other users.

Yes, this is a possible solution. Is it good? No, quite honestly, it's not. There will be abuses of that as well, it's just more hoops for abusers to jump through. It would be no more effective than the Slashdot meta-moderation, and that doesn't work either.

Yeah, I know this isn't the answer, but maybe it will start someone on a thought train to something better...

I just farted... And I blame the fiction section. - Psycho Les

[ Parent ]
On moderation practices (2.50 / 2) (#26)
by imrdkl on Wed Feb 06, 2002 at 05:07:08 AM EST

I took a poll awhile back that got a decent response, regarding how people moderate.

In general, when I decide to moderate a story, I try to first thoroughly read the article and all comments at least once, then go back and start from the bottom and work my way up. I generally only moderate comments for stories for which I have not participated in the discussion, although I did not always practice this. I now think it's a good idea, even if it is a /. policy.

Once in awhile if I write a really boring article, I'll particpate and moderate, to show some appreciation for folks input in spite of their boredom.

Other (explanation) (1.00 / 1) (#31)
by mAsterdam on Sat Feb 09, 2002 at 10:43:52 PM EST

First post! It is just a teasing introductory note, that conveys the writer's attitude towards several themes in one blow: MS, .NET and de Icaza. Just a rethorical appetizer. It positions the rest of the text as being very "now". It is not to be taken as a statement, interesting or not in itself. Clearly the real accusation, is not (completely) serious, neither is the "I wonder" part. Now all of this seems so self-evident to me (In my native language I'ld say kicking in open doors) that I hesitate to post this. I am completely new to Kuro5hin an this is my first comment (what did you think about my first remark?).

Censorship, trolls, and criticism | 31 comments (29 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
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