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The Politics of the Internet – Week Five Overview How is the Internet affecting domestic politics? Traditional topics of political science – who wins and loses elections.

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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveOverview

  • How is the Internet affecting domestic politics?

  • Traditional topics of political science – who wins and loses elections.

  • Elections in 2004 and 2006 provide some interesting insights – first time that Internet campaigning really took off at national level.

  • 2008 is too early to predict – but some interesting insights nonetheless.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveWill the Internet transform politics?

  • Two weeks ago – how libertarians (on the right) got key aspects of the Internet wrong.

  • This week – how some on the left (supporters of Howard Dean and the Democratic party) got it wrong in 2004.

  • But (as with the libertarians) – were wrong in interesting ways, and point to important phenomena.

  • And to what may work better in this election cycle


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The Politics of the Internet – Week Five

  • What are the key ways in which the Internet might affect electoral politics?

    • Fundraising

    • Organization

  • Transaction Costs and Feedback Loops

  • How did the Internet affect Election 2004

    • Dean campaign

    • MoveOn, Meetup etc

    • Ultimate results

  • Lessons for current election


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveFundraising - background

  • Political fundraising in US politics has traditionally been a vexed topic.

  • Brings two basic principles of democracy into conflict with each other.

  • On the one hand – equality of access should create a political system that is open for all.

  • On other – free speech should allow people to voice opinions – and donate money to causes that they favor.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveGeneral Parameters of fundraising

  • Previous history – Buckley versus Valeo set clear limits on the ability of Congress to make laws affecting expenditure on politics.

  • Supreme Court has privileged freedom of speech over equality of access.

  • Some limits allowed – but very hard to regulate.

  • Various efforts to change the system have been stymied.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveExpanding role of money

  • Current system provides matching funds to candidates for ‘hard money’ donations up to a certain amount – ( details outside the scope of this class).

  • But role of money in US politics has continued to increase.

  • Expenses of organizing, TV advertising etc etc.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveEfforts to ban soft money

  • Most recent effort – bilateral reform bill sponsored by John McCain and Russ Feingold

  • Sought to limit role of “soft money” (money that was raised under less stringent rules).

    • Banned raising of soft money at national level.

    • Barred explicit coordination between national parties and ‘527’ independent organizations.

    • Increased the limits for the amount of ‘hard money’ that individuals could contribute.


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Results of Campaign Laws

  • Difficulties for parties in coordinating their message with outside groups.

  • Difficulty in one part of the party coordinating with another.

    • Possible for presidential campaigns that have accepted funding to have jointly funded ads with RNC/DNC through complicated arrangements.

    • But hard to coordinate the content of these ads for legal reasons.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveEffects on Democrats

  • Widely predicted that McCain-Feingold was a “suicide bill” for the Democratic party.

  • Democrats were heavily reliant on soft money donations.

  • Poor record in appealing to, and getting contributions from smaller donors.

  • Wide belief that they would get hammered by Republicans in fundraising in 2004.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveOrganization

  • Grassroots organization has to some extent been replaced by TV advertising and direct marketing as a means of appealing to voters.

  • But still retains considerable value.

  • Allows parties to appeal directly to voters, and to persuade them in ways that aren’t possible on TV

  • Also to get supporters to polling booths.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveParameters of political organization

  • Again, election law shapes possibilities for actors.

  • Registration drives can use soft money, as long as they are not organized by the parties, do not coordinate with the parties, and focus on getting out under-represented groups in a ‘fair’ manner.

  • Thus, parties tend to farm out registration drives to officially non-affiliated groups that can more easily raise money.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveThe Internet and Politics

  • Both fundraising and organization have been substantially affected by the Internet.

  • Previously, Internet didn’t play a major role.

  • What has happened?


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveEffects of the Internet

  • Internet has had very important effects on politics.

  • Has changed funding structures.

    • Easier to raise money from small donors.

  • Has changed patterns of organization.

    • New forms of decentralized campaigning

  • But still, there’s a lot of hype.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveThe Internet and transaction costs

  • However, Internet arguably did have very substantial potential consequences for politics.

  • To see this – we need to understand two underlying concepts - transaction costs and feedback loops.

  • Ideas from economics and physics respectively.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveConcept of transaction costs

  • Transaction costs – the cost of getting information and carrying out transactions.

  • Sprung from a basic dilemma for economists – why do firms with internal hierarchies exist given the advantages of free markets?

  • Coase argued that firm hierarchy was needed because some tasks were too complicated for markets on their own.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveParties and transaction costs

  • Same argument could be made for political parties.

  • Why do we have political parties instead of just individual candidates?

  • Again – transaction costs. Campaigning etc is expensive – so party machines exist in order to lower transaction costs for candidates (and voters).

  • Party structures have a fair amount of internal hierarchy.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveLowering transaction costs

  • But what if something dramatically lowered transaction costs?

  • The need for much of the hierarchy of party machines would disappear (just as there is less need for old-style multinational corporations than there used to be).

  • And new entrepreneurs could take advantage.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveFeedback loops

  • Feedback loops – when a phenomenon becomes self-generating and self-sustaining.

  • Example – feedback squeal from microphone/speaker systems.

  • Has relevance for a wide variety of social phenomena.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveElectoral winners and feedback loops

  • In primary system, activists want to support the candidate who is likely to win the primaries and the election, and give them support.

  • They do this for both selfish and non-selfish motives.

  • But the problem is – how do you know which candidate is going to win?


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The Politics of the Internet – Week Five

  • Sometimes, there is an ‘obvious’ candidate.

  • But where there is not, feedback loops can very easily develop.

  • Activists discover that other activists are supporting a candidate.

  • They then conclude that this candidate is more likely to win, and start supporting him/her.

  • This in turn inspires other activists to support the candidate – and so on.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveGenerating feedback loops

  • Key lesson for candidates: if you want to win the primaries (and to a lesser extent the election) a good way to do it is by creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  • If everybody believes that you are going to win, you are more likely to win.

  • But doing this has traditionally been very hard to pull off.

  • And if your reputation for winning is punctured, you may be in trouble.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveTransforming Campaigning

  • As in other areas of politics, some have argued that the Internet holds out the possibility of transforming political campaigning.

  • Can make it more flexible, responsive, and in a fundamental sense, more democratic.

  • This time, people on the left are making these claims.

  • But again, truth appears to be more complicated


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FivePre-history

  • Internet has only really come into its own in 2004 election.

  • Previously, there were a couple of examples of Internet based campaigning.

  • Jesse Ventura – ran for governor of Minnesota using email and text-based discussion.

  • But, in general, not a major factor in vote-winning strategies of parties.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveElection 2000

  • 2000 elections are a case in point.

  • Both presidential candidates had websites (as did other candidates for office).

  • But these played a secondary role.

  • Set out some of the candidates’ positions, but didn’t really try to engage actively with voters.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week Five

  • At this stage, Internet was a key political issue – but politicians didn’t know how to use it.

  • Candidates didn’t want to seem anti-Internet – but didn’t get heavily involved in Internet campaigning.

  • Instead, a brouhaha over whether Al Gore had ‘invented’ the Internet or not.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveElection 2004

  • When the Internet really began to have effects on politics was in Election 2004.

  • Rather than just being windowdressing, it played a key role in determining outcomes.

  • First, it reduced transaction costs for fundraising and organizing.

  • Second, it helped candidates to create feedback loops.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveThe Internet and transaction costs redux

  • The Internet lowers the transaction costs for both organizing and fundraising.

  • Makes it easier for individuals to coordinate with each other, without a central hierarchy.

  • Allows much more flexible forms of organization, and rapid reaction to events.

  • Also much better as a means of fundraising than traditional methods (direct mail; appeal to rich or influential people).


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveMeetup, MoveOn and Blogs

  • Three key tools of organizing and fundraising – Meetup, Moveon and blogs.

  • The first two played an important role on the Democratic side in the last election.

  • Allowed people to rapidly coordinate, first in support of Dean, and then of Kerry.

  • The last was used by both sides – but in different ways.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week Five

  • MeetUp.com – a social networking service, with some limited resemblance to Facebook, MySpace etc.

  • But focused on allowing people with shared interests to coordinate locally.

  • Aimed at helping LotR fans and the like to discover each other, and to organize local events.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveMeetup and politics

  • Provided an important way for supporters of a particular candidate to build up momentum.

  • They could

    • Identify other supporters in their locality.

    • Organize meetings to coordinate activity.

    • Raise funds through parties etc.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveDean Campaign

  • Howard Dean’s campaign identified Meetup early on as a valuable tool.

  • Dean attended a NYC Meetup, and started to encourage his supporters to use it.

  • Created a feedback loop – the Dean campaign started to create a kind of self-generating momentum. He started to look like a winner.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveA Meetup style campaign

  • Dean’s decision to do this affected his campaign’s organization in key ways.

  • In Gary Wolf’s description, the campaign was based on a “stupid network” – and this was supposed to be one of its strengths.

  • Little central direction or hierarchy – instead there were hundreds of independent groups at the local level.

  • Could still organize efforts such as sending 30,000 handwritten letters to Democrats in Iowa, asking them to support Dean.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveMoveon

  • A complex organization (3 different structures), founded in 1998 as a reaction to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.

  • Didn’t begin to play an important role until the Iraq debates, when it began to emerge as an important force in fundraising.

  • Then entered into the election fray on behalf of the Democrats.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week Five

  • Different parts of Moveon played different roles.

  • One part focused on general ‘Get Out the Vote’ efforts and voter education using soft money – officially non-partisan, but with a clear implicit bias.

  • Another supported specific candidates using hard money.

  • Another used the 527 rules to campaign sotto voce against the administration through attack-ads etc using soft money.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveHard Money

  • Generated a lot of hard money through small donations in 2004.

  • Organized houseparties etc.

  • Also sought to provide organizational muscle to Democrats.

  • Was linked implicitly to Dean early on (though never endorsed him); but was able to regear after Dean’s defeat.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveFunding and feedback effects

  • Feedback effects helped Dean to gather funds rapidly.

  • Nothing breeds success like success – people gave money to Dean in part because others were giving money, and he seemed likely to win.

  • Allowed him to short-circuit many of the traditional centers of power in the Democratic party.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveBlogs

  • Will talk in more detail about blogs’ effect on the media next class.

  • But blogs also played a role in fundraising and getting organized support.

  • Again, Dean created a network of pro-Dean blogs that played a key role in generating early momentum and buzz.

  • Some pro-Democrat blogs raised money (Kos, Atrios).

  • Sought to set pro-Democrat agenda (combatting right wing talking points)


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Right wing blogs

  • Right wing blogs didn’t play as direct a role as left wing blogs in raising money etc.

    • Many right wing blogs libertarian – not directly allied to Republican party (though highly sympathetic to it).

  • But helped Republican cause through generating controversy.

    • Swift Boats controversy

    • Dan Rather controversy (topic for next class).


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveLeftwing Optimism

  • Many perceived Dean’s early successes – and the success of MoveOn and other organizations in raising money for Kerry – as evidence for a new form of politics.

  • Indeed – why was the Democratic party still necessary if Howard Dean could circumvent it?

  • But Dean lost after Iowa.

  • Kerry lost, despite Moveon.

  • So what went wrong for the left?

  • And what lessons can we learn for the current election cycle?


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveDean and feedback loops

  • Steven Berlin Johnson – talks about how the Dean campaign’s reliance on feedback loops was a bad idea in the long run.

  • Feedback loops are great for building in crowds, or pulling in money.

  • But they don’t do very well at steering an organization in a complex, changing environment.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveDifferent kinds of complexity

  • Johnson identifies two kinds of complexity from nature – slime moulds and termite mounds.

  • Dean campaign more like a slime mould.

  • Its ‘stupid network’ didn’t have any way of coordinating responses to change.

  • Johnson suggests that some form of top-down organization would have done a lot better.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveDean’s downfall

  • The positive feedback loop only kept going as long as Dean’s campaign was doing well.

  • When it started to encounter problems in Iowa, it began to falter – and wasn’t able to adapt properly.

  • Lacked the more far-reaching kinds of complexity that provide for homeostasis.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveThe Democrats’ failure to win

  • Similarly, the MoveOn phenomenon did not give Kerry a win.

  • It did give him a very important fundraising advantage, both in terms of soft money and hard money.

  • A hitherto unprecedented flow of small donations to the Democrats, mostly over the Internet.



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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveReasons for Kerry’s defeat

  • But Kerry still lost – why?

  • Obviously, there were many reasons – but some of them were organizational.

  • Unlike the Kerry campaign, the Bush campaign didn’t rely so heavily on 527s, although it used them (the Swift Boat 527).

  • Instead, it relied on a centrally coordinated, top down campaign and strategy to attract volunteers.

  • Technologically sophisticated – but in different ways (use of targeted voter databases.

  • Got less media attention than Moveon etc – but also got the job done better – more Bush voters turned out.


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Difficulties in Coordinating Message

  • Kerry was limited in fundraising opportunities because he had accepted public financing.

  • More money was raised by 527s and other groups that were effectively pro-Democratic.

  • But these groups weren’t allowed to coordinate with the Kerry campaign.

  • Result: A much more confused message, no single line of attack on the Republican party etc.


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The Politics of the Internet – Week FiveNarrow lessons

  • The Democratic campaign (partly a reflection of the desire to capitalize on 527s) had a much more decentralized approach than the Republicans.

  • Clearly helped to bridge the funding gap – contrary to expectations, Democrats did well in raising money.

  • But also perhaps meant that the Democrats were less able to respond with a coherent strategy than the Republicans were.


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Recent primaries

  • Some interesting contrasts to be drawn that seem to support these broad arguments.

  • Fundraising – Obama campaign benefitted from identifying new and non-traditional sources of money (small donors), allowing it to sidestep the Clinton campaign’s control of more traditional fundraising networks.

    • A result of changes in transaction costs

  • Feedback loops – we saw one feedback loop get broken, with devastating consequences for the candidate (Clinton), and one created, in a situatio where few Republicans were really happy with any of the candidates on offer (McCain)


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Current election

  • We still don’t have enough data to really figure out the relationships.

  • But some interesting early indicators.

    • Democrats have tried to steal some of the Republicans’ clothes.

      • Creation of ‘Catalist’

      • Combining grass roots organizing with top down communication structures.

      • Discouraging (until recently) the creation of 527s.

      • Huge effort to register and GOTV.

    • Republicans are running a more decentralized campaign.

      • Have difficulties in matching Democratic fundraising given that Obama is not accepting public funding.

      • Are relying on joint McCain/RNC ads and fundraising to bridge the gap.

      • This gives them money – but leads to organizational problems.

      • Still aren’t very organized on WWW (though have ads on YouTube etc).


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Catalist

  • Democrats have sought to match the Republican advantage on voter targeting.

  • Creation of ‘Catalist’ – a for-profit private enterprise designed to help the Democrats (and various other left of center causes).

  • Gathers detailed marketing data that allows for micro-targeting of voters likely to be interested in specific issues

  • Hard to say whether this will match the Republican advantage or not.


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Combining top-down with bottom up

  • Democrats have sought to have a more top-down approach this time.

  • Have created a site MyBarackObama.com that combines blogs, email discussion etc, while giving Obama campaign access to millions of new email addresses.

  • Have used this to try to get the message out, inspire new volunteers etc.

  • Again, system is interesting but untested – and may lead to conflicts between campaign and rank-and-file (e.g. dispute over FISA).


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Move away from 527s

  • Obama campaign has foregone federal funding and has sought to centralize control of campaign message.

  • Deliberately discouraged creation of big new 527s.

  • This has arguably had benefits – meant that Obama campaign less likely to send out mixed messages than, say, Kerry campaign.

  • But also weaknesses – can’t easily outsource potentially controversial attacks.

  • Obama campaign may be changing its mind sotto voce.


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Differences between Democrats and Republicans

  • Republicans have been far slower to take advantage of WWW than Democrats.

  • Have difficulties in dealing with open and uncontrolled movement.

  • Have sought to channel fundraising etc through traditional campaign websites.

  • Have also had much greater difficulty in attracting buzz and money than Democratic candidates.


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Internet fundraising

  • Final figures are so far not available.

  • But it would appear that nearly all of Obama’s money has been raised through the Internet while McCain has relied more on traditional means (fundraising events etc).

  • McCain has raised less money for his own campaign than Obama.

  • But together with the RNC he has managed to stay competitive (may be hurting more in the last few weeks).


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Republican changes in organization

  • Because McCain is restricted in fundraising, his campaign faces coordination problems that the Obama campaign doesn’t.

  • Can’t officially coordinate campaign’s message with RNC message.

  • This actually has consequences – mixed messaging of last week over bailout bill (RNC denouncing it while McCain campaign embraced it).


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Lack of social movement on the Internet

  • McCain campaign hasn’t emphasized online organization in the same way as the Obama campaign (relied instead on more traditional conservative networks to get message out).

  • But has used Internet to disseminate important messages via YouTube etc.

  • A succession of ads – some of which never ran on national or local TV – intended to shape media coverage.

  • Obama campaign has tried to do this too – but not as successfully.


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If Obama wins

  • A very interesting evolution in Internet politics.

  • Will have a constructed online social network with millions of email addresses etc.

  • How is he likely to use it to push forward his policy goals?

  • Could for example target recalcitrant senators with write-in campaigns etc etc.

  • We would be on uncharted territory.


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If McCain wins

  • It will be in part because online networks are, as in 2004, still no substitute for more traditional networks (through churches etc).

  • These may be less obvious and visible to people in DC – but are still highly important.

  • We may also see some interesting convergences happening as conservative groups get more teched up – new hybrids between traditional and non traditional means of influencing neighbours etc.


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Whoever wins

  • We may also see some interesting new pressures begin to emerge from online networks.

  • Example : controversies over the bailout bill.

  • Both networks on the left and those on the right, even while both presidential campaigns supported it.

  • Perhaps the emergence of a new kind of populism that doesn’t fit nicely into traditional political categories.


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