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So what exactly is the purpose of the profile?
April 7, 2012 10:18 PM   Subscribe

What's wrong with referencing someone's profile info in a discussion?

Earlier today there was a pretty solid discussion going on in one of the FPPs. One comment in particular stood out as a bit over the top emotionally and I checked out the profile to see if maybe the person had significant relevant experience and maybe we touched a nerve.

Based upon the person's profile, it was just the opposite. When I brought this up in the thread I was quickly smacked down by another commentor and eventually my comment was deleted (I'm guessing because it got flagged by someone).

I'd love to hear from the community why referencing someone else's self description is unacceptable. Is it EVER acceptable to reference someone's profile in a discussion or are they the love that dares not speak its name -- only to be viewed and never commented upon? Consider this a teaching opportunity for me.
posted by bpm140 to Etiquette/Policy at 10:18 PM (51 comments total)

Discussion in Metafilter should concentrate on the topic, not on individual members (it even says so below the comment field); trawling someone's profile to decide if they have the proper personal experience to express an opinion, which is what you did, is not okay. If you are looking at someone's profile in order to formulate a "gotcha," you are definitely doing it wrong. If members use information found in profiles to attack or harass another member, they will get a time-out at the very least, and may be banned.
posted by taz (staff) at 10:24 PM on April 7, 2012 [13 favorites]


The other issue with it is that you're taking something that isn't indexed by google or accessible to non-members and putting it where anyone and everyone can read it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:29 PM on April 7, 2012 [22 favorites]


And to underscore part of the why behind this beyond just the general "don't be a jerk to each other" philosophy: profile pages are not indexed by search engines. They're specifically intended to be slightly more restricted spaces where folks can include some personal information, including some fields that are only visible to logged-in members, for community-centric reasons with the expectation that that info will not be unilaterally made public by other users.

So when you reference something from someone's profile page, even with benign intent, that can be a problem for them. As a general rule we just do not want people doing this without explicit permission from the user in question, and will generally remove comments where we see that happen.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:31 PM on April 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


So I read the title of this post as "So what exactly is the purpose of life?" instead of "the profile." Boy, that was a letdown.
posted by quincunx at 11:09 PM on April 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


As a consolation prize, please enjoy this profile of a porpoise.
posted by taz (staff) at 11:24 PM on April 7, 2012 [9 favorites]


I was talking to my shrink once about switching out labels for adverbs; e.g. Rather than saying that I'm an idiot I can say I'm behaving idiotically.

At question was the phrase "fat slob" to which I said "I know how to behave slobbily, but how does one act fattily?"

He said "Collect stamps."
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:51 PM on April 7, 2012 [10 favorites]


we've had awesome threads about people with great profiles, but a quick search isn't bringing them up for me.
posted by nadawi at 11:51 PM on April 7, 2012


not saying that it's breaking the rules or whatever - just that, to me, one of the purposes of profiles is that they can be fucking awesome.
posted by nadawi at 11:52 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cortex -- makes a lot of sense. Thanks.
posted by bpm140 at 11:53 PM on April 7, 2012


Anytime it's an adversarial situation, using information from a person's profile is pretty much the definition of taking the argument "to the man", in other words ad hominem.
posted by scalefree at 3:36 AM on April 8, 2012


quincunx: Alexander Papaderos' answer, via Robert Fulghum

http://www.treatment-centers.net/articles/what-is-the-meaning-of-life.html
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:18 AM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I seem to remember Ask posts where someone has referenced a poster's earlier questions to give some context to their answer.I'm assuming that is OK.
posted by 4ster at 5:20 AM on April 8, 2012


The other issue with it is that you're taking something that isn't indexed by google or accessible to non-members and putting it where anyone and everyone can read it.

Good point.

So when you reference something from someone's profile page, even with benign intent, that can be a problem for them. As a general rule we just do not want people doing this without explicit permission from the user in question, and will generally remove comments where we see that happen.

OK, another good point.

So what becomes of the "Who has awesome profiles?" discussions which pop up periodically?
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:37 AM on April 8, 2012


Earlier today there was a pretty solid discussion going on in one of the FPPs. One comment in particular stood out as a bit over the top emotionally and I checked out the profile to see if maybe the person had significant relevant experience and maybe we touched a nerve.

Based upon the person's profile, it was just the opposite. When I brought this up in the thread ...


One problem is that you probably didn't know what you were talking about. Did the profile really say, "I haven't had any experience relevant to ____?" I doubt it. You probably don't know whether this person has had any relevant experience. And even if, for instance, the profile said, "I've never been outside the United States," and the profile was about a different country, you still don't know how this person's experience might or might not inform their views about that country.

Trying to police whether someone has enough of a basis in life experience to be able to hold an opinion about something is a futile endeavor. I'm sure you have opinions about things you haven't experienced. We all have opinions about death, but none of us has died. We have opinions about the 19th century, but none of us has lived in the 19th century. When you call out someone for lacking experience, you might feel like you're being rigorous, but you're really just making an ad hominem argument — attacking the person instead of what the person is saying.

This has happened to me, where there was an AskMe thread about a relationship; someone disagreed with my answer; so this person explained that I'm clearly wrong because, unlike the commenter, I hadn't ever been in that type of relationship situation. But this person could not have possibly known whether that was true, because I don't generally go into detail about my relationship history on Metafilter. Stop and think: do you actually know what you're claiming to know, or are you just trying to display your own superiority by making up facts?
posted by John Cohen at 6:33 AM on April 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


And even if, for instance, the profile said, "I've never been outside the United States," and the profile was about a different country

Sorry, I meant if the FPP was about a different country.
posted by John Cohen at 6:34 AM on April 8, 2012


Obviously I agree we shouldn't link to eachother's profile pages. I actually remember one well liked guy leaving the site because someone went through his profile and figured out who he was. I don't remember his username but I think he was an academic who studied musical history, or like how music impacted culture or something like that.

That said, I do need to nitpick here:

Anytime it's an adversarial situation, using information from a person's profile is pretty much the definition of taking the argument "to the man", in other words ad hominem.

Technically "Ad Hominem" means something like "You say the earth revolves around the sun. You are ugly, therefore the sun revolves around the earth" Wikipedia describes it as: "is an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or belief of the person supporting it"

"negate" is the keyword here. In logic, a negated statement is 100%. Saying something like "In the past, you've been wrong 99.9% of the time on this topic, so you are probably wrong now" is not a logical fallacy.
posted by delmoi at 6:37 AM on April 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


One problem is that you probably didn't know what you were talking about. Did the profile really say, "I haven't had any experience relevant to ____?" I doubt it.

It was a discussion about choosing elementary schools where a fair number of people who don't have / want children felt the need to chime in about how they would hypothetically choose schools and judge other posters based on their choices. It'd be easier to ignore if they said at the front that it was a hypothetical for them.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:45 AM on April 8, 2012


And of course their hypothetical opinions should just be dismissed out of hand because non-parents couldn't possibly have informed, intelligent opinions about education. This comes up in every thread about children, parenting, education, etc. and it's damn annoying.
posted by Mavri at 7:11 AM on April 8, 2012 [10 favorites]


So what becomes of the "Who has awesome profiles?" discussions which pop up periodically?

Those discussions are basically always of the form "oh my god, their profile page is an alligator!" or "it has the funniest story on it!" or "it's a retina-searing pink, go sear your retinas!", and never of the form "oh neat, they list their physical location as 45th and N Grumplepants St., Tucson" or "their email address is foo@bizzle.ru, awesome!". We're far less worried about someone talking in a positive context about non-personal content of a neat profile page than we are about folks actually relocating personal info into public, indexed discussions.

That said, on the rare chance that someone puts something on their profile that someone else thinks is neat and chooses to surface publicly but the profile owner considers private and has sudden massive regrets about seeing come up, we'll generally accommodate that regret by touching base with the "hey this is cool" person about nixing their comment or whatever (and maybe encourage the person having the regrets to reconsider if they want to present that info that way on their profile page). But this is something I cannot think of any clearcut examples of having happened.

It's sort of similar to the situation with what we choose to sidebar, if you want to think of it this way; the purpose is generally to celebrate something cool or interesting about someone or something someone said in this community, but while there's lots of unambiguously cool/interesting stories that we sidebar without a worry, there's also some very interesting/noteworthy comments that we tend not to because for all their value they seem like something someone might not want to have a spotlight shown on. "I am a science nerd, here's how turbo encabulation works!" is a bit different in that sense than "I too struggled with heroin addiction, here's the story of how my marriage failed" even if both are really excellent comments.

I seem to remember Ask posts where someone has referenced a poster's earlier questions to give some context to their answer.I'm assuming that is OK.

It's tricky. In askme it's almost always benign and intended as helpful (since it's people trying to use the profile page to suss out details the asker didn't provide to better ask their question), and as such I think it's less likely to get flagged, so we may not even see it much of the time. Ultimately we're dependent at that point on the asker letting us know if they see it and are uncomfortable with that, and we do deal with that sort of situation periodically where we'll need to check with an answerer about remove/redacting a comment referencing profile stuff.

Generally speaking I think it's better to avoid explicitly introducing that link to the thread even when trying to use profile info to be helpful: just answer based on what you've gleaned without mentioning the gleaning process, or turn it into a question for the asker to prompt them to choose to put it out there if they want, etc. But it's the most complicated bit of this to navigate, yeah.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:13 AM on April 8, 2012


"oh my god, their profile page is an alligator!"

What's that supposed to mean?
posted by overeducated_alligator at 7:27 AM on April 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


I lose track of the thinking on this as it relates to AskMe stuff, if it's okay to touch on the fact that a person has, say, consistently asked what amounts to an I'm-in-a-messy-relationship question more than a couple times and it's similar stuff related to the same relationship, if there's a general sense of non-stop big drama from one short relationship to the next, etc.
posted by ambient2 at 7:31 AM on April 8, 2012


I lose track of the thinking on this as it relates to AskMe stuff

Our feeling is that there's a big difference between asking "I see you're 22 and still in college. Is it possible that you have other problems with your life between this relationship?" and "You have already asked this three times before [link] [link] [link] What is wrong with you?" and "What happened after the last time you asked this similar question? Did any of the advice help?"

One is bringing over specific personal information, one is looking a lot like comment/post trawling, and the last is raising a general idea that can be supported by a look at the profile page. So, it's fine to point out generally that someone has asked a few variants of a similar question. It's less okay to attack them with this. And if someone asking the same sort of question makes you personally upset, irritated or angry, keep moving. Irritated answers are actually more of a problem to the community than someone asking the same question over and over, and we can deal with the latter as mods.

So, only you can know if you're basically checking out someone's profile to in some way use it against them, but that sort of thing isn't okay and it's for a slightly different reason than bringing over private information is not okay.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:37 AM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


It was a discussion about choosing elementary schools where a fair number of people who don't have / want children felt the need to chime in ...

Most of us do have experience as students, sometimes in a mixture of settings, public private, homeschooling, different school districts. This experience is relevant. There are cases where in, say, a discussion about education policy, opinions of teachers would be given more weight, This thread wasn't one of those cases.

I'm also not sure how you're getting that a person doesn't have children from their profile. Some people mention that their children on their profile page, but usually they don't. You can't really infer anything from the absence of this information.
posted by nangar at 7:39 AM on April 8, 2012


"oh neat, they list their physical location as 45th and N Grumplepants St., Tucson" or "their email address is foo@bizzle.ru, awesome!"

Stop listing my profile details cortex. Now I'm going to be forced to move from Grumplepants St, possibly to Fuzzlefuck Avenue or someplace.
posted by panboi at 7:53 AM on April 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


Even benign stuff can screw people who are posting in cloaked form here, and that is very potentially damaging!

"Hey barfalot, I see you are working in aerospace, were you at NASAcon 2012?"

barfalot's boss finally gets his radar pinged. "YEAH, I knew it! Can that be Sam Jones, that fucker in engineering?"

Boss reads zealously over the next few hours about barfalot's polyamory, drug experimentation, and the advice he gives in AskMe for dealing with fuckhead bosses.

barfalot gets completely fucked, completely innocent slip on the part of a well meaning poster. You don't know these other members, keep their private info on the profile pages for them to share as they wish.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:53 AM on April 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Man I remember a thread, the topic was a white woman who slept with a black man back in the slavery days, and there was debate about whether it was consensual, and the mores of the time, and one poster was attacked pretty harshly (I can't remember if it was just a one-on-one or not now) and their comments were brought up in thread to make the point that the guy was racist. (In my memory, I remember thinking it didn't follow from the comments that were reposted but I may be wrong). Still, bad form to bring it up.

Jeez, that was a bad day for mefi imho. Just because a person has certain ways in certain areas, you just cannot extrapolate that out to say "you are a x because of this".
posted by marienbad at 7:55 AM on April 8, 2012


And of course their hypothetical opinions should just be dismissed out of hand because non-parents couldn't possibly have informed, intelligent opinions about education.

I think non-parents can certainly have informed, intelligent opinions about education, if it's a subject they have followed with interest and if they're aware of what is going on in education these days. But do they? I had no idea how much schools had changed since I was a kid (the increased academic expectations in kindergarten and first grade, for instance, or the reduced recess time) until I had kids.

But every parent has stories about, "Before had kids, I said I would never do X, and here I am doing X." People stating categorically that when they have kids they will never never consider not sending their kid to public school are naive--they simply don't know all the things that can happen to change that opinion. They might have a kid with a mild learning disability that the school doesn't deal well with; they might have a kid like my oldest, who is very smart but simply wasn't ready for sustained academic work at 6, 7, and 8; their kid might be the victim of bullies, or become a bully in the school environment; their kid might turn out to be gifted in a school that lacks the time or resources to support her academically (an acquaintance of mine started homeschooling after the school dealt witih her daughter being very advanced in math by telling her that she had to keep doing the second grade math curriculum but that she could do the fifth grade math on her own at home in the evenings--and, no, she would not be allowed to skip third grade but would have to do that math the next year, as well); their kid might get that one terrible teacher that the district can't get rid of and just keeps moving around to a new assignment every year in the hopes of minimizing the damage he can do; and so on.

It's a combination of amusing and annoying when non-parents get on a high horse about the parenting decisions they're going to make, because those of us who have kids (especially those of us who have more than one with different temperaments, or a quirky or challenging one) have all been up there, and we've all been humbled in our time.
posted by not that girl at 7:57 AM on April 8, 2012 [11 favorites]


"oh my god, their profile page is an alligator!
What's that supposed to mean?"

Gator's profile.
posted by metaname at 8:05 AM on April 8, 2012


so tempted to post Gators funny email address just to mess with cortex
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:35 AM on April 8, 2012


It was a discussion about choosing elementary schools where a fair number of people who don't have / want children felt the need to chime in about how they would hypothetically choose schools and judge other posters based on their choices. It'd be easier to ignore if they said at the front that it was a hypothetical for them.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:45 AM on April 8 [+] [!]


Right, because these posters were probably never kids and never went to school either, and so CLEARLY have no idea about how to choose a school.
posted by dazed_one at 8:47 AM on April 8, 2012


I get that you guys are partly just arguing the concept and using this as an example, but we really don't need to have a proxy argument about school selection and such in here.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:57 AM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's also the fact that once in a while, we all slip up and say something completely stupid and uninformed when we don't really take the time to reconsider what we type, in which case the other commentors can correct what was posted for glaring oversights.

Oh, wait, that's just me? :hangs head:
posted by smirkette at 9:12 AM on April 8, 2012


I think non-parents can certainly have informed, intelligent opinions about education, if it's a subject they have followed with interest and if they're aware of what is going on in education these days. But do they?

I was a teacher and I'm still an educator working closely with school systems and teachers, so for at least some of us, the answer is yes. Therapists and psychologists and social workers and tutors and music and dance teachers and coaches and camp counselors and group home facilitators and Scout leaders and nurses work with children intensively and regularly and often around the clock. There are also people who are pretty intimately involved with child-rearing, even if the children are not their own - aunts and uncles, nannies and babysitters, family friends, older sisters and brothers who, because of their own family needs and structures, did a lot of parenting. I understand the irritant in hearing from people who don't have their own children "What I would do is X and you are wrong for not doing X," but it is unfair to discount the significant,and often deeply informed, childrearing experience of many non-parents based simply on what you know of their parenting status. Take each piece of advice as it comes, and evaluate uniquely for its wisdom.

On topic: I think this benign/not benign connection to profile information is problematic and inconsistent. I really do. We reference people's known experience and professions all the time based on what they make available (ColdChef the undertaker, for instance). This boundary seems extremely ill defined and I'm certain I have unwittingly overrun it before. I'm not even sure it should be observed. Perhaps what's more needed is a better understanding of what information can be accessed from profiles and how to make decisions about what exactly each user should provide, a la Facebook. In other words, placing the burden on the community not to look into profile information may not make as much sense as placing a burden on each user to provide only the information they want accessed. The privacy of profiles is really not all that secure - not only because they're sometimes linked inthread, even as a "hey talk to this guy" -- but because a lot of people have $5.
posted by Miko at 9:43 AM on April 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


As a consolation prize, please enjoy this profile of a porpoise.

That's not one of those tax porpoises is it? They're dangerous.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:21 AM on April 8, 2012


On one occasion, during the course of a debate about the appropriate use of the term 'Uncle Tom,' someone checked my profile, then used my state of residence to support their claim that I was a racist. That comment was not deleted, but that's probably because I didn't flag it and I didn't flag it because I'm opposed to comment deletions.

(At least 20% of the people who read this comment will click through to my profile to find out where I live).
posted by Clay201 at 10:26 AM on April 8, 2012


Well here's the outline of the issue and maybe we can brainstorm ways to make things clearer.

- Profile pages aren't indexed by Google, so someone could put something there like their email or their profession or their city/state and that wouldn't wind up linked to their MeFi username on Google forever. Even linking to a profile doesn't have the same effect as mentioning something you read off of their profile. This gets a little tough in AskMe but most people are able to work within this okay.
- It's fine to know something about someone based on their profile [i.e. "hey it's your birthday!" or whatever] and less okay, with varying degrees of less okay, to explicitly make that link in an indexed-by-Google sort of way
- This also gets thrown out the window when someone is very public about their personal details as, say I am or ColdChef is. This is also true with the Brand New Day stuff. Once you start telling people your old username, we-as-mods do not feel that we need to police other people who are making that connection in comments. Up to that point, however, revealing someone's sock puppet or prior username is a big deal "don't do that" situation. Going after someone who is otherwise having a Brand New Day just because you didn't like their old persona/handle is likewise something we try to keep to a minimum
- Some of this also involves intent at least as well as we can determine it. So if you use someone's profile information to go after them in some way, that's not cool for a number of reasons. If someone makes an error and links someone's profile information and their handle in a way that makes the user uncomfortable but that doesn't seem to be intentionally assholish, we deal with that on a case by case basis and it's a pretty rare occurrence
- "Outing" someone in terms of linking their handle to their real world life [again, if the user is making an effort to keep those links private] is not okay at a "could be a bannable offense" level. People need to feel okay talking about themselves here and not worry that people are going to be compiling dossiers on them. This is part of the "don't be an asshole" guideline and only loosely involves the profile pages. We have a weird issue occasionally where someone includes profile information that we actually know to be incorrect [the Scott Adams thing is notable, but I've seen it a few other times] that are always vexing to deal with.
- People have different expectations of privacy here and so our biggest concern is setting expectations accurately--that is people can have a pretty good idea of what people can and can't do with profile information--with the understanding that some of what we do is fix things after the fact, we can't basically make people not do things.

So our mod actions/statements are sort of like

- Reading people's profiles and talking about them in a general way is okay.
- Linking people's profile information with their username is something to be cautious about and if this has happened and someone is uncomfortable with their information being linked, send us a contact form message.
- Discussing specific information that you have reason to believe the OP might want to keep private is not okay.
- Outing someone is a bannable offense though often it's a thing we just warn people about if we think it was accidental.
- Using people's private-to-MeFi information for nefarious purposes [i.e. spamming, hitting on people, other weirdness] is pretty specifically not okay and rarely comes up.

We don't think the "not indexed by Google" thing is a very high wall and it's not supposed to be, but the community norms of being cautious when you are sharing personal information that is not your own works out pretty well, enough so we get very few requests for mod action on the subject. Here are the FAQs that have the profile tag, maybe we could add a bit of information to the short one that talks about what is visible by members.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:29 AM on April 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Rule of thumb: if you're looking for something in a profile that will provoke a reaction of "GOTCHA!" then you're stepping over a line.
posted by Etrigan at 10:40 AM on April 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Someone once posted a MeTa as they dimly remembered having seen the bit of early modern prose I quote in my profile. That was pleasant (and meets Etrigan's wise standard above) as it felt like I'd shared something of worth with someone.
posted by Abiezer at 10:56 AM on April 8, 2012


You know what the kids call someone who looks up your facebook, all your friends and all your pics on it and then follows up your friends and looks at their pics, ad infinitum? That's what they call a "creeper" and doing what you described here with someone's profile feels eerily similar.
posted by Lynsey at 12:04 PM on April 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know what the kids call someone who looks up your facebook, all your friends and all your pics on it and then follows up your friends and looks at their pics, ad infinitum? That's what they call a "creeper" and doing what you described here with someone's profile feels eerily similar.

Yeah, that is a word the kids of facebook are in love with. Creeper creeper creeper, all the time. However, they also enjoy being married to their bf at 13 and posting pictures shirtless standing in front of their toilet. I'm not sure you're going to find a lot of wisdom there.

I agree with what was previously said: if you're looking at a profile for a cheap 'gotcha', it's over the line. Other than that, to ignore what has been chosen to display on users profile seems silly (Do not look at the man behind the curtain...).
posted by justgary at 12:40 PM on April 8, 2012


Creeper seems like a decent description.
posted by zarq at 1:06 PM on April 8, 2012


"oh my god, their profile page is an alligator!"

I wish I could be a fly on the wall if anyone ever actually said that about me.

I am a simple creature.
posted by Gator at 1:27 PM on April 8, 2012


I do like, Gator, that one interpretation of your profile is that the whole of Metafilter is an alligator's dream.
posted by meese at 2:00 PM on April 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I must admit that once in a thread about really gross bugs I responded to someone saying "these things don't live in the U.S., do they?" with a (totally false) statement that said bugs were very rare and were only seen in large numbers near X, where X was the location listed on their profile.

Arguably a cheap gotcha but I think it was taken in the spirit in which it was meant.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:13 PM on April 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


"oh neat, they list their physical location as 45th and N Grumplepants St., Tucson"

Hey now!
posted by Splunge at 4:56 PM on April 8, 2012


(At least 20% of the people who read this comment will click through to my profile to find out where I live).

South Caltuckivanistan Island?!?!?!?!
posted by The Michael The at 6:35 PM on April 8, 2012


they list their physical location as 45th and N Grumplepants St., Tucson

....I wanna visit Grumblepants Street now.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:09 AM on April 9, 2012


....I wanna visit Grumblepants Street now.

Stay off my lawn!
posted by panboi at 6:49 AM on April 9, 2012


Crummy day!
Everyone go away!
On my way
Somewhere that smells like feet
Can you tell me how to get
How to get to Grumblepants Street?

posted by Sidhedevil at 4:03 PM on April 9, 2012


Miko: " This boundary seems extremely ill defined"

I think that is is very well defined - information in the profile is listed there for viewing by logged-in members and nobody else. Taking that information and making it more public crosses the boundary.
posted by dg at 6:36 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Taking that information and making it more public crosses the boundary.

Well, if you read jessamyn's comment on the topic, it's a bit subtler than that. But anyway, the antenna have been raised.
posted by Miko at 6:28 AM on April 10, 2012


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