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A YouTube for the littlest video viewers

Think of YouTube Kids as digital training wheels for the little video viewers at your house – something a lot of parents have been wanting for a very long time. We all know how popular but not always appropriate YouTube is for kids. Problem solved. Designed for kids through age 8, YouTube Kids carefully screens videos so the littlest online viewers can satisfy their seemingly over-active curiosity safely.

YouTube Kids logoIt’s age group-appropriate in terms of content as well as how kids navigate the app. If they’re pre-readers, they can just tap, swipe or talk to pick a video to watch – they can browse or search by voice (even a whisper), whether it’s for how to learn or make something or just to be a couch potato.

What I like about YouTube Kids is how kid-customizable it is. It’s easy to use, and there’s so much content that there’s something for every Curious George. It’s fun but not all fun and games. There are four categories of content at the top of the screen, each with a cute icon that looks hand-drawn: Tap the screen and you get “Shows”; you get music by tapping the little boom box. Learning is representing by a lightbulb, and tap the little binoculars and you get to Explore. The familiar magnifying glass symbol off to the side gets you to voice or text search. Read more

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From public shaming to public compassion

The public discussion about “online reputation” has gotten darker, as “public shaming” appears in more and more headlines. We may think it’s tough to be a celebrity, having everything one does – good, bad or anything in between – go viral. But it’s even tougher not to be, if you post something negative online. Because when you’re not a celebrity, it seems only bad stuff goes viral, not just every little thing you do. A stupid joke, a callous remark, a cranky critical comment gets posted, and the non-celebrity can suddenly find him or herself judged by thousands or (depending on how outrageous the post’s seen to be by his/her new “public”) by millions. The public has no context, and so somehow you’re defined – either intentionally by someone who has it in for you or by a public seeking entertainment on a slow news day – by something bad you mindlessly or angrily said.


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Not that this new set of conditions excuses callous or casually cruel remarks made online. But if jobs are lost, depression or self-harm happens, reputations are destroyed and the safety of the commenter and his or her family and friends is threatened – all of which has happened to people – it is at least legitimate to ask if the punishment fits the “crime.” That’s an important question raised in a book excerpt about public shaming in this week’s New York Times Magazine. It leads with the story of how a p.r. executive with a Twitter following of just 170 people became a global celebrity while she was on an international flight. That a racist comment, whether reportedly a joke or not, could be posted publicly and by a p.r. professional on the way to South Africa is astonishing, but so was the scale of the collective response.

Our humanity, not our technology

Since what happens in social media is much more about our humanity than our technology, we really need to think together about the punishment humanity is now capable of meting out. Read more

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Youth participation’s growing momentum

It’s exciting to see the signs of adult support for youth voices and participation multiplying. It’s important and it’s time. Here is just a sampler of this encouraging trend:

  • Photo from Australia's YAWCRC

    Photo from Australia’s YAWCRC

    Agency for citizenship. In Internet safety circles, we’re seeing increasing focus on citizenship (online and offline) rather than on safety alone – safety as a means to competent participation and expression in participatory media and a networked world. Digital and physical safety, or protection, is one of three categories of rights enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: protection, provision and participation (see this on the “3 P’s” and this on citizenship). As for why active participation, or agency, is so important for our children, Prof. James Paul Gee at Arizona State University, put it better than I ever could: “People and institutions will have to be resilient and change with change. They will have to gain very real skills with critical thinking and complexity in order not to be dupes and victims of the rich, corporations, media, and governments. They must become activists, knowers, producers, and participants and plug into and play with the right team of people and tools” (as quoted in’s MindShift).

  • Born brave. Through research, events for youth, its Youth Advisory Board and continued learning, the Born This Way Foundation is talking about innovating ways to support young people “where, when, and how they need it,” writes its Research Advisory Board chair, University of Nebraska psychology professor Susan Swearer, in the Huffington Post. The focus is on support and support delivery mechanisms that are both meaningful and useful to youth, rather than on the adult supporters and legacy systems and tools, Dr. Swearer writes. Also in keeping with young people’s wishes, as they and I have heard from youth, the Foundation is focused more on empowering something – “the social and emotional well-being of our youth” – than on just stopping something: bullying and social cruelty, which debilitatingly focuses attention on people as perpetrators and victims.

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Of student digital privacy & schools demanding passwords

For Data Privacy Day (1/28), let’s take a look at students’ data privacy – as in the data on their cellphones and whether school administrators have the right to search the devices. The ACLU says they don’t. It called out a school board in Tennessee for violating the constitutional rights of students by implementing a policy that allows school officials to search digital devices kids bring to school and “to monitor and control what students post on social media sites,” Wired reports.

As for citizens of all ages, the Center for Democracy & Technology cites “a very important appellate court ruling … US v. Warshak, which says that email should only be accessed with a warrant,” and “not just email, but also texts and private social networking posts.” But that’s just one appellate court decision, so CDT is calling for an update to the relevant federal law, Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

Student privacy vs. school safety in Illinois

But lawmakers in Illinois apparently believe students don’t have that privacy right on school grounds. They passed a law that allows an elementary or secondary school to “request or require a student to provide a password or other related account information in order to gain access to the student’s account or profile on a social networking website if the elementary or secondary school has reasonable case to believe that the student’s account on a social networking website contains evidence that the student has violated a school disciplinary rule or policy” – as long as the school has notified students and parents that this kind of request could be made. The law, which went into effect a year ago this month, doesn’t mention cellphones but it’s safe to say the passwords to “social networking websites” would include passwords for accessing students’ social media accounts on any device used at school. Read more

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Sexting & the plummeting teen pregnancy rate

Don’t believe anything you hear about sexting causing an increase in teen pregnancy. There is no way it can be true. How can I say that? Because teen pregnancy in the US has plummeted since 2007.

Chart showing 38.4% decline in teen pregnancy 2007-'13

The biggest decline is among women under 20 (far left). [See the full-size chart at]

“For five years now, America’s teen birth rate has plummeted at an unprecedented rate, falling faster and faster. Between 2007 and 2013, the number of babies born to teens annually fell by 38.4%,” writes Sarah Kliff in, citing research by Demographic Intelligence. But that research firm isn’t by any means the finding’s only source. The federal government published it last June (2013 figures are the latest available), and the teen pregnancy decline made it into President Obama’s State of the Union address last week.

Teen abortions down too

“This drop occurred in tandem with steep declines in the abortion rate,” so abortions aren’t the explanation, Kliff points out. She looks at every possible theory you could think of for how this decline across all 50 states came about to show how stymied public health officials are in looking for an overriding explanation. Please see Kliff’s article for all the theories she surfaced and why they don’t cut it – yet, at least. Read more

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‘State of the Union’ & the student part of student privacy protection

There’s a lot of confusion in the air about student data privacy, and some widely quoted words about it from President Obama in his address Tuesday night didn’t help (but I suspect his speechwriters were just looking for a spot to put a high-priority topic into “a simple, dramatic message about economic fairness,” as the New York Times put it:

(Creative Commons licensed)

(Creative Commons licensed)

“No foreign nation, no hacker should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets or invade the privacy of American families, especially our kids.”

Today’s privacy protection mashup

Where kids’ data is concerned, the problem is not foreign nations or hackers, it’s a blend of elements much closer to the kids and their devices, as close as the kids themselves, their peers, their devices, the providers of the devices and the software on them and the authorities in their lives (at home and school). So the solution is a mashup too. Not even “only” a mashup of laws and privacy settings (on devices, from social media companies, in operating systems or in the apps that run on them). It’s not just distributed across those non-human parts of the privacy equation; it’s distributed among the people who are party to a social experience in a digital space.

Because of the social nature of media, privacy is personal and social and fluid. It’s shared by all parties to that social situation. It needs to be optimized not just protected – by all the moving parts – especially by the user at the center of those concentric circles of privacy protection: in this case, your kid.

Protection from the inside out

How can we help our kids do their part, consciously and skillfully, in the optimization of their own privacy? First of all, we can’t continue to see or represent them as passive beneficiaries of others’ actions to protect their privacy. Part of protecting them is respectful treatment of youth as active participants in today’s participatory privacy equation – as is developmentally appropriate, of course.

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Millennials’ startup: Social change in a social-networking skin

How fitting for a social network service for social good to launch on Martin Luther King Day. Created by millennials to have “a positive ripple effect,” its name,, comes from the Spanish verb “rizar,” which means “to ripple or ruffle the surface.”

rizzarr“Our goal is to provide a positive, globally connected platform where both inspirational news and content from Millennials are shared” by both staff and users, says its founder, Ashley Williams. “My team and I want young people to use RIZZARR to uplift, encourage, and empower each other.” So instead of fighting negativity in social media, these young adults have decided to demonstrate the opposite, in keeping with what the research has been saying about millennials and with what aims to be a movement in a social networking skin.

It’s at the commercial end of what increasingly looks like a commercial-nonprofit spectrum of socially minded enterprise (as opposed to the old either-or construct), part of the “sharing economy” that author and economist Jeremy Rifkin says will be in full partnership with capitalism by mid-century. Read more

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Social media literacy in an app

Brilliant concept. A source of quick, digestible social media literacy delivered by an app, not parents (one reason why it’s so digestible). I’m talking about the ThinkUp app. It’s definitely not just for teens, but what a great application for a reputation-curation and media-mindfulness tool. It’s so much more powerful than just googling oneself or getting a service like to help clean up your social media act post-facto (and cheaper than the latter). Mindfulness in social media is something every user needs, but nowhere does it pay more to start young!

thinkup“ThinkUp, a year-old subscription service that analyzes how people comport themselves on Twitter and Facebook [something that teens are unlikely to want their parents to analyze, right?] with the goal of helping them become more thoughtful, less reflexive, more empathetic and more professional — over all, better behaved,” reports the New York Times, referring to the benefits to a user of any age. Read more

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Kids’ top social media picks: New resource for parents

Here’s a super starting point for a conversation with your children about social media: NetAware, a brand-new set of reviews of kids’ top social media services. It’s not the first such resource for parents, but two things set it apart:

UK kids' Top 5, according to NSPCC

UK kids’ Top 5, according to NSPCC

  1. These are kids’ own top social media picks. This isn’t adult guesswork. Because part of its mission is to “ensure the voices of children are heard in everything we do,” NSPCC consulted with 1,854 11-to-18-year-olds to find out the most popular social media services among their peers – social network sites, apps and games. NSPCC made sure the services were among the 100 most downloaded apps in iTunes and Google Play last October and comScore’s Top 50 services accessed by kids 6-14.
  2. The reviews are by parents, for parents. Britain’s NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) developed it with Mumsnet, one of the country’s largest parenting sites. Each of the 511 parents of 8-to-14-year-olds recruited for the project was asked to review 1-3 social media services by filling out a questionnaire NSPCC developed. They served as volunteers but were entered into a contest giving them a chance to win one of four donated prizes.

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Two 2014 anniversaries that say reams about our kids’ futures

We don’t want to let 2014 slip away without marking two anniversaries that are very important to our children: those of an invention and a convention. This year was the 25th anniversary of Tim Berners-Lee’s release of his computer code creating the World Wide Web, now with some 3 billion users worldwide, and the 25th anniversary of the UN’s adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

GasserUNICEFreport“Both the Convention as a social innovation and the Web as a technical innovation have had transformative impacts and made the world a better place,” wrote Urs Gasser, executive director of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society in a UNICEF publication, “Taking Children Seriously” this fall – though, he adds, there is certainly a lot of work to do to close digital access and literacy gaps and ensure that children’s digital rights are upheld planet-wide.

A global consciousness + efficacy

The invention and the convention are inextricably connected, especially for our children, the people who are inheriting and preparing to run this shrinking networked world. Growing up with the global consciousness that a global network affords is now a given, but it won’t ensure safe, ethical, effective citizenship or stewardship of this planet without the rights enshrined in the convention. Our children’s digital rights are where the 25-year-old invention and convention intersect, and they must be informed of, not just afforded, their digital rights of… Read more

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An app for teens that promotes (& gets) positivity

letlogoLast spring I asked, “Will safety ever be baked in to social apps?” Well, it’s actually starting to be. Let is a perfect example. A social app (mostly on Apple’s iOS phones) with an overwhelmingly teen-aged user base that launched last March, its L.A.- and Marseilles-based creators seem to have grown a digital community in which teens and young adults, mostly girls, feel safe and help each other thrive.

For example…Let_1000_stars

  • Let users don’t just “like” each other’s photos, videos and comments (or in Let’s case, “star” them), they help each other grow their collections of stars – this app’s version of social media social capital. Not everybody, of course, but Let’s creators say this is one of the most common practices on the service, and I’ve experienced it in the app myself.
  • Let prompts them to thank each other when they do that, showing them over and over how courtesy strengthens community and so promoting positive social norms.
  • Let has “angels.” “One day [CEO] Pascal Lorne gathered in one chat room all the users who asked, ‘How can I help?'” writes my co-director Larry Magid at Lorne “spent a lot of time with them teaching them nonviolent communication methods” and how to support fellow users and bring attention to interesting posts and kind actions. He told us he spends 2-3 hours a day in the community interacting with users and learning how they use the app.

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Sydney: A hashtag for a city (and world) in need of healing

“The city is now in mourning,” wrote author, researcher and Sydney resident Nina Funnell to a group of colleagues in the wake of the horrific siege in a financial district chocolate shop. Australians (all of us, really) are trying to make sense of the attack, The Australian reported, invoking 9/11 and attacks since then in Madrid, London and Boston.

“But out of all this horror, there have been some truly beautiful moments of humanity,” Nina wrote us. #Sydneysiege wasn’t the only hashtag about the attack that went viral this week.

sydney“While a small minority of members of the public began talking about reprisals against the Muslim community, a much larger group of people have banded together on Twitter to express solidarity with the Australian Muslim community.

“On seeing that Muslim women were taking off their hijabs on public transport to avoid harassment and abuse, one young woman began a hashtag on Twitter, offering to ride to work the next day with any Muslim people who felt afraid or who wanted support.

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Doxxing: Key Internet safety risk & what to do about it

You may’ve heard the term “doxxing.” It’s where online harassment can spill over into the offline kind, increasing risk of harm to whoever’s being targeted, regardless of age, race, gender, etc. The form it usually takes is public exposure of the target’s personal information – street address, phone number and other records – and, as we’ve seen in the news lately, it’s “often accompanied by threats of violence, sexual assault or murder,” reports Ken Gagne in

“Many women gamers and developers, as well as those who support them, have lately come under attack from online trolls,” Gagne adds, referring to another term you may’ve heard of late (especially if there are gamers at your house): “#gamergate.” Harassment associated with doxxing can be unnerving, often traumatizing, because harassers know where the target lives or how to reach him or her offline. Some targets have moved house or left jobs because of it. Gagne does a great job not only of linking to background info on all this but also of showing you how to make your personal information a whole lot less public. It’s a hassle, but he writes that, in “an hour or two,” you can get your personal info deleted from the 11 most commonly used databases of that info (like those old white pages, except with worldwide information available worldwide – there’s even one called “White Pages”). Read more

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Digital & social: A teen’s perspective on parenting

Guest post by Jason Brand

As a therapist who specializes in helping families navigate an increasingly digital culture, Jason Brand, LCSW, hears a lot from teens about what they find helpful and not helpful when it comes to their social lives, digital devices and advice from their parents.

jasonI first met Jason when we were interviewed on a radio show together a few years ago and have been a fan of his ever since. I asked him why he wrote this post, and you’ll find his answers to that and a few other questions in a sidebar below.

This post is a composite of many teens’ views and experiences, those expressed in family and individual therapy sessions. “It’s some of the words behind the anger, avoidance or even just frustrated eye-rolling that teens can use in response to parental questions or concerns,” Jason told me. “It’s what teens are able to say in therapy, when they are feeling less defensive.”

This is what I want you to stop doing:

Stop taking my phone and the Internet away as a punishment. When I was younger and all I used the computer for was playing games and watching shows it made more sense. Now it’s confusing, because you take it away as punishment but then have to give it back to me because I actually need it for something you approve of. I need to do research for school or you need to be able to get in touch with me, or I need to text a friend to find out an assignment, or I need to use Facebook to work on a group project. Taking it away doesn’t make sense when it’s such a big part of my social and school life. Completely cutting me off from school and friends by keeping me from the Internet is impossible. Read more

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Social problem data & youth: Cause for celebration

“We should be celebrating young people’s good judgment and self-control — and extolling their parents and teachers,” writes David Finkelhor, director of University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center, in a Washington Post article just before Thanksgiving. “They have brought delinquency, truancy, promiscuity, alcohol abuse and suicide down to levels unseen in many cases since the 1950s.”

Here’s evidence. The numbers across a broad range of social problem indicators in state and federal data are down, Dr. Finkelhor shows:

  • Violent crime: “Serious violent offenses by juveniles have dropped about 60% from 1994 to 2011. Juvenile arrests have receded faster in the past 10 years than adult arrests. Property crime by youth also has sunk to its lowest point in 30 years.”
  • Sex crimes: Three state and federal surveys show that the number of youth arrests for sex offenses is down (and sex crimes against teens are down by “more than half since the mid-1990s”).
  • School safety: “Violent victimization of teenagers at school … dropped 60% from 1992 to 2012,” the latest data available from the US Justice Department, and “school homicides, which rarely number more than a couple of dozen per year,” were lower in the last decade than in the ’90s.

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Of parenting & a class called ‘Wasting Time on the Internet’

One of the central stereotypes of (or maybe urban legends about) us, our tech and our time is people filling every free or empty moment doing something on a screen – texting, playing a game, posting a photo, listening to a tune, checking email, reading a book, etc., etc. It makes us feel guilty or critical because it’s typically associated with lack of self-discipline or situational awareness. Remember the phrase “continuous partial attention” and how much, when first used in the last decade, it worried us? We certainly worry about “too much screen time” on our children’s part, because everybody from pundits to pediatricians almost always refers to it negatively. We sometimes characterize this monolithic thing called screen time as an “addiction,” or at least a waste of time.

PennSo consider this: a University of Pennsylvania creative writing class entitled “Wasting Time on the Internet.” “Although we’ll all be in the same room, our communication will happen exclusively through chat rooms and listservs, or over social media,” writes its professor, Kenneth Goldsmith in The New Yorker. “Distraction and split attention will be mandatory. So will aimless drifting and intuitive surfing. The students will be encouraged to get lost on the Web, disappearing for three hours in a Situationist-inspired dérive, drowsily emerging from the digital haze only when class is over. We will enter a collective dreamspace [the Surrealists’ ideal state for making art, he writes earlier in the essay] an experience out of which the students will be expected to render works of literature. To bolster their practice, they’ll explore the long history of the recuperation of boredom and time-wasting, through critical texts by thinkers such as Guy Debord, Mary Kelly, Erving Goffman, Raymond Williams, and John Cage.” Read more

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Takeaways from premier US anti-bullying conference

This Thanksgiving week in the US, I’m thankful to have heard the following from two outstanding researchers and a well-known author in the bullying prevention field speaking at the just-ended International Bullying Prevention Association’s (IBPA’s) annual conference in San Diego:

IBPA“We don’t talk enough about the ecosystem around kids,” said educational psychology professor Dorothy Espelage at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, a leading US scholar on bullying. “Everybody’s coming to the table – schools, parents, pastors, coaches. That’s great. We have to take a socio-ecological approach.” That’s the climate of a whole-school “ecosystem” referred to in the title of this year’s IBPA, “Building Supportive Relationships to Create a Positive School Climate.”

SEL will ‘move the needle’

“Bullying is extremely intergenerational. It’s very complex,” Dr. Espelage said. “We’re still struggling to move this needle, and social-emotional learning is one way to move it. The programs that promote social competence and acceptance of others are the ones that work.”

As for that acceptance, in another session, Stan Davis, co-creator of the Youth Voice Project (which surveyed more than 13,000 students in 31 schools nationwide), spoke of lower rates of suicidal ideation among gay as well as straight students in schools where people feel they can be themselves – another outcome of positive school climates and SEL. Read more

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Do surveys about parents’ concerns increase digital-parenting confidence?

FOSIPredictably, the media coverage of a new survey of parents on digital-age parenting focused mainly on their concerns about tech and the Net. We need to question that – question the value of repeatedly reporting about concerns if, as a society, we want parents to feel confident in helping their children navigate today’s media. Here are some questions we might ask, for example:

1. UK psychologist Simon Moore raised one very good one on a panel following the unveiling of the study at last week’s annual FOSI Conference: “We spend half our time in the real world and half in the digital world, sometimes more. Are we more at risk in one than the other? Are parents concerned about their children’s behavior in the real world? That needs to be looked at.” But surveys about digital parenting not only don’t “look at that,” they don’t reflect that blended digital/physical reality or help parents understand the importance of working with the whole child and his/her experience as a whole, because they’re living their lives in both spaces. Asking people about their concerns about something pulls it out of context and reinforces the belief that it’s the thing in an of itself to be concerned about. Read more

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The next version of ‘Internet safety': A look under the hood

“Under the bonnet,” colleagues across the Atlantic and Down Under would probably say. I put it that way because this post is a bit more e-safety geeky than usual. Parents and caregivers who don’t geek out on this topic might find this mildly interesting, though, because we’re talking about kids’ wellbeing in media and so much more. Going forward, the value of “Internet safety” – if the concept doesn’t eventually just melt into online/offline risk prevention and instruction in media, digital and social literacy, as I suggested last year – will be measured by how much it increases children’s literacy, competency and success, as well as safety, in this networked world.

It has been just over five years since we ConnectSafely folk published “Online Safety 3.0: Empowering and Protecting Youth,” but clearly we’re not the only ones who feel it’s time for Internet safety to get an “upgrade” now. The Family Online Safety Institute’s annual conference is this week and has the title “Redefining Online Safety.” How do we do that while “the Internet” keeps changing, with mobile’s predominance even in the US, making media ever more personal, customizable, accessible 24/7 and – in some cases – ephemeral? [Internet safety messaging used to include cautions against the “permanent searchable archive” that the Internet had become; well, disappearing media solves that and other problems we’ve noted but now raises new concerns.]

So what does “Internet safety” look like going forward? Here are what I see to be the key elements under the hood of this “concept car” we might call Online Safety 4.0:

  • Youth participation: In a user-driven media environment, safety doesn’t happen without the full participation of whoever we want to keep safe. Does that not seem intuitive? And yet this condition has been conspicuously absent from Internet safety discussion all over the world. What we’re slowly moving away from is the opposite insidious premise that youth are only potential victims, perpetrators (in the case of cyberbullying) or at best passive beneficiaries of adults’ campaigns, policies, protections, etc. Participation is as much a right as protection is. Youth participation goes beyond youth having a voice in the matter.

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