Campaigns/Elections

The Puny Reality of Russian Election Meddling

If Moscow aimed to "sow chaos," it needed a much bigger budget.

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For years now, we've been hearing that Russia "meddled" in the 2016 presidential election. And as much as Donald Trump might want to deny it because of the implication that a foreign power helped him defeat Hillary Clinton, the evidence that Russian agents tried to influence the election, or at least the debate surrounding it, seems clear.

Whether they succeeded in doing so is a different question. While we may never have a definitive answer, clear thinking about the issue requires distinguishing between different kinds of meddling, some of which are more troubling than others.

The biggest threat comes from attempts to directly alter vote tallies. According to a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report published last week, "The Russian government directed extensive activity, beginning in at least 2014 and carrying into at least 2017, against U.S. election infrastructure at the state and local level."

Russia's motive is unclear. It "may have been probing vulnerabilities in voting systems to exploit later," the report says, or "Moscow may have sought to undermine confidence in the 2016 U.S. elections simply through the discovery of their activity."

In any case, the committee found "no evidence that vote tallies were altered or that voter registry files were deleted or modified." While that conclusion is reassuring, it is hardly cause for complacency about securing the systems we use to determine which candidates voters actually favored.

Another kind of meddling also involves hacking, but here the aim is to uncover information that might influence voters, as with the emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. While such activity is and should be treated as a crime, the results are not unambiguously bad for American democracy, provided the information is accurate and relevant.

The third kind of meddling, social media activity aimed at reinforcing political divisions or favoring one candidate over another, is also largely illegal, violating statutes dealing with fraud and foreign campaign contributions. But it is otherwise virtually indistinguishable from what Americans do on their own, and it seems quite unlikely that it had any measurable impact on the election results.

According to the report that former Special Counsel Robert Mueller issued last March, the Internet Research Agency (IRA), an organization linked to the Russian government, "had the ability to reach millions of U.S. persons through their social media accounts." But the same could be said of many online information sources, and "the ability to reach" is not the same as the ability to persuade.

Some more numbers from the Mueller report help put the issue in perspective. Between January 2015 and August 2017, Facebook identified 470 IRA-controlled accounts out of more than 1 billion active daily users. "The IRA purchased over 3,500 advertisements," the report says, "and the expenditures totaled approximately $100,000″—roughly 0.0004 percent of Facebook's ad revenue in 2016.

Twitter "identified 3,814 IRA-controlled Twitter accounts," which represents close to zero percent of active daily users. Even if some accounts "had tens of thousands of followers," as the report says, that's a drop in the bucket. The story is similar on Instagram (170 accounts out of half a billion active monthly users in 2016) and YouTube (43 hours total vs. 300 hours uploaded per minute).

Don't forget the rallies! The Mueller report says Russians posing as Americans managed to instigate "dozens" of pro-Trump or anti-Clinton rallies in the run-up to the election, some of which attracted "few (if any) participants," while others "drew hundreds." Trump alone held 323 rallies, attended by a total of 1.4 million people, during his campaign.

Russia tried to "sow chaos," The New York Times says. If that was its goal, it needed a much bigger budget.

Not only were these Russian efforts to influence the election minuscule; they were effective only to the extent that they changed people's voting behavior. While sophisticated security measures are necessary to ward off Russian hackers, all it takes to combat Russian propagandists is a brain.

© Copyright 2019 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. Half the effort was promoting Kaepernick and BLM

    1. Bureau of Land Management?

      1. I always knew they were in league with radical former NFL players!

  2. A made up scenario to cover up Hillary’s failures.

    1. But tell us how Seth Rich really died.

      1. He was shot in his back multiple times at around 4 am in an ostensible botched mugging, though his phone, wallet, cash, and watch were not taken.
        He’d left his regular bar at closing time, around 1:45-2 am. His activities and whereabouts for the 2 hours between leaving the bar and his murder are unknown.
        He was shot in his neighborhood, in front of 1000 square foot townhouses that, at the time, were selling for $800k+ and $2500/month rental.

        1. Sounds like a suicide.

          1. Explain how someone shoots them self in the back.

            1. It’s called an Arkancide.

        2. ugh! do you get all your conspiracies from the Russians or just the ones that attempt to discredit the greatest presidential candidate ever https://www.cnn.com/videos/politics/2019/07/10/cuomo-closing-argument-fox-news-seth-rich-conspiracy-russians-cpt-vpx.cnn

          1. I don’t see where Nardz is promoting a conspiracy theory. Seems like the facts and just the facts.

            “”He was shot in his back multiple times at around 4 am in an ostensible botched mugging, though his phone, wallet, cash, and watch were not taken.””

            Do you disagree?

            “”He’d left his regular bar at closing time, around 1:45-2 am. His activities and whereabouts for the 2 hours between leaving the bar and his murder are unknown.””

            Do you disagree?

            “”He was shot in his neighborhood, in front of 1000 square foot townhouses that, at the time, were selling for $800k+ and $2500/month rental.””

            Do you disagree?

            1. I guess I should have added a sarc tag

              1. Ah, ok. My bad.

                Yeah, sarcasm doesn’t hit as well in print.

            2. My one takeaway is that if an $800k home only brings $2500 or so in rent, then that is a poor investment in income property. Buy a strip mall or something.

  3. “For years now, we’ve been hearing that Russia “meddled” in the 2016 presidential election. And as much as Donald Trump might want to deny it because of the implication that a foreign power helped him defeat Hillary Clinton, the evidence that Russian agents tried to influence the election, or at least the debate surrounding it, seems clear.”

    OK, Sullum wins the TDS award this evening.
    Define “meddling” you pathetic excuse for a journalist, and tell us *specifically* when Trump denied such bullshit.
    Yes, Russia wasted whatever it spend to affect the election, but it sure triggered your TDS.

    1. Well if you read the rest of the article he does go on to define the types of “meddling” that occurred

  4. very interesting topic and very exciting to debate.
    GudangPoker

  5. Russia tried to “sow chaos,” The New York Times says. If that was its goal, it needed a much bigger budget.

    Uh… I dunno about that….
    Seems like they managed to work us into a pretty chaotic state.

    And as for budget, you might be able to add on the $35 million we spent in furthering their agenda of chaos. (so far)

    1. The chaos was underway before they got started. Their efforts were like turning on a blowdryer to “mess things up” during a hurricane.

  6. The Russians wouldn’t have succeeded in their micro-budget Facebook meme strategy if Americans weren’t so fucking stupid. That’s true.

    1. The Democrats were pretty stupid to nominate an uncharismatic, incompetent, corrupt candidate.

      1. She still go 3 million more votes.

        1. Illegals, incarcerated felons, cartoon characters, the graveyard vote, those who ‘voted early and often’, plus the people who were near state lines and voted in multiple states.

          All core constituencies of democrats like the Clintons.

        2. Who won more counties with an even number of registered voters?

          Wait, this IS the ‘completely irrelevant election statistics’ discussion, right?

          1. Not irrelevant when the original proposition was that Hillary lost due to a relative lack of likability or popularity.

            1. You left out incompetent, as in “Bill Clinton, one of the greatest retail politicians of all time, told the candidate to campaign in WI but the candidate was too incompetent to heed that advice.”

    2. Keep telling non-Lefty Americans how stupid they are for not accepting Socialism.

      It’s working so well for Team Blue. Haha.

      I cannot wait for Trump to win re-election, Blue states to lose seats in the House to Red states in Census 2020, and for the Congressional election 2020 to go badly for Team Blue.

      I have orphans working overtime in the mines to build enough tear barrels in time.

      1. You’re stupid for so many more reasons than that. I’m not a socialist, by the way. Nobody is. Bernie says he is, but he’s a precious moron.

        What perplexes me is that the sum total of you people’s political aim is to execute 25% of the women in America for getting abortions. Like, that’s pretty sick dude.

        1. “I’m not a socialist, by the way. Nobody is.”

          No, you are, as are most of your ilk.

          Nigga please.

          1. These categories were invented by Marx, who was, while a vastly more important economic philosopher than Rand or Mises, was still no final expert on the human condition, so I don’t really put much effort in applying them to myself.

            Every society on earth has a mixed economy. Even North Korea, tough less mixed than one might prefer. Putting people in fake categories is a way to turn your brain off. Turn your brain on and discuss policy ideas on their merits. Or tell me why it’s a more practical idea to demonize half the country and call them names.

            1. “Turn your brain on and discuss policy ideas on their merits. Or tell me why it’s a more practical idea to demonize half the country and call them names”

              When you write sentences like this, I begin to suspect you’re a parody account

              1. I like to think I call half the country names and have solid policy ideas.

    3. Ironically, the only candidate known to have used the help of Russians to attack their foe was…Hillary.

      1. Shhh, Tony doesn’t like facts he doesn’t agree with.

      2. A lie. The opposite of the truth. Read something besides shit-filled right-wing fever swamp publications. For the love of God.

  7. the idea that RUSSIA! wanted Trump to win is so silly. Trump was a wildcard, hillary was already bought and paid for. this doesn’t mean they tried to help her win (although the Steele dossier makes it seem they would prefer her), just that they weren’t trying to get him to win.

    RUSSIA!! and similar enemies do not pick partisan “sides.” it seeks to disrupt and make all distrustful of the system.

  8. But it is otherwise virtually indistinguishable from what Americans do on their own, and it seems quite unlikely that it had any measurable impact on the election results

    I agree with the above statement.

    I would also add that world leaders like the Pope and many of the leaders of the EU came out with dire predictions of what would happen if Trump was elected. How is that not foreign meddling trying to influence the outcome of an election?

    1. Um… the Pope didn’t post it on his facebook page?

      That’s all I got.

    2. Ugh… no edit button.

      But yeah, I’ve been making the same point to TDS idiots for a while and something so basic seems to prove incredibly elusive to them. I dont understand.

      1. They.
        Want.
        To.
        Believe.

  9. I am not convinced that everything internet that originates east of Western Europe is controlled by either the government of the Russian Federation or Vladimir Putin personally. I will bet they wish that was true, but I suspect it is not.

    1. Russia has had a rather large sphere of influence for over 100 years. Russia was even interested in the USA with Alaska being fairly close to America.

      Alaska certainly was a great buy for America and it must rub Russia the wrong way that Alaska will never be absorbed back into Mother Russia, like the Crimea was.

      1. Crimea was not “absorbed.” Troops went in with guns and coerced the residents to switch sides.

        1. Yes, of course they did.
          No, no, the Crimeans loved the pro-nazi Maidan coup, loved the coming government that was going to outlaw their language, and wanted to welcome the Ukrainians with guns looking to relocate them.
          And of course the vote for annexation was entirely coerced, as no Crimeans could’ve possibly thought they needed protection from their own violent, coercive (former) government.
          And how dare Russia step in to protect their vital naval base and ethnic kin. C’mon – Russia knows that despite Crimea being part of Russia for hundreds of years, Ukraine’s rule for the last 50 makes Kiev the rightful sovereign, not Moscow. I mean, when both were part of the USSR, premier Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea from Russia to Ukraine. I’m sure it had nothing to do with his Ukrainian identity, but because he knew it was the morally right thing to do.
          I’m just glad Western media was around to report the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It’s not like British and American Intel agencies have some sort of agenda or anything, and they are way too upstanding to try to manipulate public opinion.
          Russia is by far the most evil nation to ever exist.

          …what a fucking dupe

  10. “And she would have won, too, if if weren’t for you meddling Rooskies!”

  11. The object wasn’t to sow discord. That doesn’t serve a purpose. The Russian IO campaign was and is about serving Russian national interests as determined by Putin by influencing U.S. policy.

  12. The OP strikes me as an unrealistically optimistic interpretation of the Senate Report. That was extensively redacted. States, before they would cooperate, demanded that their information be anonymized, so all the reports from all the states except Illinois are referred to only by a number assigned to each state. There is no way to check anything locally.

    The report says that many state officials were hostile to federal inquiries, and continued to resist cooperation. The report cautions again and again that the insight the investigators were able to obtain was, “limited.” The reports notes a repeated assertion among state election officials that being forthright about troubles in the election process would do the Russians work for them, by undermining faith in the election.

    If anything, reading the report brought me closer to concluding that election results probably were altered. At a minimum, I am utterly convinced by reading the report that it cannot come to a reliable conclusion on the question.

    Finally, readers of press reports need to be aware that the report seems to narrow the question of election outcome changes to whether votes tallies were changed after votes were cast. That is apparently what is being characterized by the press as a result saying the election result was not altered.

    That does not seem like an accurate characterization. It leaves unaddressed the questions of corruption of voter registration lists, tampering with election equipment, and changes to intentional voting induced by hacked information, and disinformation campaigns on social media.

    The report notes denials by state officials that issues of that sort made any difference. It does not detail much about the basis of those denials, and the officials are basically in hiding. With regard to some sources of election trouble, it is far from clear that the Senate report is doing anything more to assess the reliability of state election processes than to ask state officials, and take their word for it. There is nothing in the report to assess the competence of unnamed state officials to determine the security of the processes they oversee.

    The discussion in the report of tests of the integrity of election equipment is particularly disturbing. The report notes both the ease with which experts accomplished tampering, and the breadth with which equipment proved laughably insecure was used in the election. Experts reported use of voting machines on which someone with 15-seonds’ physical access could alter election results to deliver victory for any candidate.

    On balance, the report struck me as terrifying—far worse than reports in the press had led me to believe. Indeed, it now seems the press itself is engaged in something approximating a cover-up, for no other reason than press institutions don’t want to be accused of spreading distrust in the election process.

    1. State officials not cooperating might auger for a conclusion that election results were tampered with, but it doesn’t point to the Russians.

      If it was a foreign power, they’d probably be happy to lay the blame on the biggest intelligence agency out there.

      But if the tampering were to be from somewhere closer to home? Perhaps some tampering that wouldn’t entirely come as a surprise to those officials? Then it might just be possible that they wouldn’t want someone outside their state power structure investigating too closely.

      1. Brian Kemp, as secretary of state of Georgia, pushed for answers on why DHS was trying to hack into their voting system in 2016.
        The press wasn’t interested in that though

    2. I can’t speak to other states, but the scan-tron type machines that Wisconsin uses for the majority of ballots are never on-line. Results are not sent upstream over any kind of telecom network.

      Tampering with the machines would require physical access to each individual machine tampered with.

      1. It’s the same with Georgia’s outdated touch-screen voting machines. They’re not networked. The machines are supposedly very vulnerable, but it requires unlocking the covering for the port and getting access to the hardware, and that lets you corrupt the votes for one single machine.

        A single corrupt poll manager could possibly mess up a polling site, but no individual is allowed to be alone with the machines.

        The thing is, I don’t know what the weaknesses might be at the state office where they’re reported. They get hard copies printing out all the data that gets sent to each county office, but from there they literally phone in to the Secretary of States office. I don’t know what precautions are taken to protect the data there.

      2. Matthew, as the report notes, even voting machines which are not physically networked are virtually networked. Every machine is reprogrammed with election-specific data prior to each use. That creates the possibility that corruption of that master data could infiltrate malware across a range of machines. Nothing about the state-to-state security of that master data is made clear in the report.

  13. The image up top is literally one of those Russian ads the Democrats shit their pants over. That’s it. That’s what stole the election from the rightful heir.

    Look how stupid it is. Did some people believe it? Sure, but only those who already believed that Jesus was Republican. It didn’t switch any votes. It didn’t change any perspectives. There were native memes far worse than that Russian ad.

    Democrats still believing Russia stole the election is the reason why Democrats will lose again in 2020.

    p.s. Some Democrats seem to have sniffed a bit of reality though. Which is why Hillary was NOT on stage last night, and replaced by Hillary-Lite.

  14. The issue that bothers me the most is that they actually think that we can be swayed by something the runs by us on Facebook or Twitter! I know of no middle of the road people that could have gone either way. Clintons group hated Trump and Trumps group hated Clinton. Period! No fence sitting anywhere!

    1. I can think of, and know, many middle of road types. None that would be like “Oh, both are good, which one?”, but rather “Oh, both are crap, who to hold my nose for?”

      But regardless, no one is going to be swayed by ads as stupid as these.

      1. I think there are a lot of folks ’round these parts who are not sitting on the fence and who definitely have a hatred for both.

        Which points to an electoral path for Trump – his critics are so insanely stupid that even staunch opponents end up defending him from stupid attacks. I’ve read a couple of left-wing writers making that same complaint: “Stop making me defend Trump!” Eventually, that’s gotta push a few people into his camp.

  15. “If Moscow aimed to “sow chaos,” it needed a much bigger budget.”

    Looks to me they sowed chaos amazingly well.

  16. It warms my cockles to think about how, if the Russians (or Iranians or whoever) did the same thing but chose to support Democrats, all of a sudden all of you idiots and your fellow Republican shaft-servicers would suddenly rediscover patriotism a respect for democracy.

    It also just churns my butter to know, beyond doubt, that you’ll also return to being moralistic cunts as soon as the serial adulterer and molester and vulgar fat orange fuck is replaced by a Democrat who might have gotten an elicit BJ once.

    I like hypocrisy. It’s just another name for pragmatism. If only you had any ideas that were worth a shit.

    1. “”that you’ll also return to being moralistic cunts as soon as the serial adulterer and molester..””

      Bush jr ran on that platform. Responsible government after the serial adulterer/molester was impeached for obstructing. It never works out like you think.

    2. “It warms my cockles to think about how, if the Russians (or Iranians or whoever) did the same thing but chose to support Democrats, all of a sudden all of you idiots and your fellow Republican shaft-servicers would suddenly rediscover patriotism a respect for democracy.”

      Describe the Steele dossier.

      1. They’ll do a better job than I could.

        Now describe how you’ll explain to your grandchildren that you supported a demented orange racist as president because he totally pwned the libturds.

        1. Didn’t read what you linked, did you?

          Fusion GPS approached Hillary’s people to see if they wanted to pay them to continue their “data collection”. The collection involved a Brit and a bunch of Russians.

          Ergo, Hillary used Russians and a Brit to attack her rival.

          Just as I said.

          How does it feel to condemn Trump not doing anything for Russia while praising Hillary who paid for Russian dirt? Plus had OTHER countries trying to help her.

          …yet STILL lost.

          1. Because when you pay for it it’s not an in-kind campaign contribution. And it didn’t come directly from the Kremlin.

            Get your information from somewhere besides shit-filled rightwing fever swamps.

            And if she’s such a criminal, why can’t the Republican administration who hates her cunt can’t convict her of anything?

    3. *yawn* Stopping election tampering would be simple. Voter ID and paper ballots with a metric fuckton of cameras. Problem solved.

      1. In-person voter fraud is, as everyone knows, practically a myth, so IDs and cameras would be useless. We can get together on paper ballots though. Progress!

    4. Maybe they will next time and we can find out.

    5. Who the fuck cares if he got a BJ from a chunky but cute intern? I mean, it’s too bad he couldn’t get some hot actress tail like JFK or Obama, but I can’t blame a guy for saying yes to a willing 20 something throwing themselves at you.

      1. Obama?
        You spelled “actor” wrong

  17. While such activity is and should be treated as a crime, the results are not unambiguously bad for American democracy, provided the information is accurate and relevant.

    We owe our gratitude to the Russians for assisting in our election by revealing the cravenness of the Democratic National Committee. Fully informed voters make better decisions.

  18. There is no reason to believe the IRA was tied to the Russian government. The DOJ has testified to as much in court.

    There is also no reason to believe that Russia provided emails to WikiLeaks. The USIC hasn’t been forced to admit this yet, because nobody anywhere is actually asking for any evidence whatsoever for their grandiose claims.

    1. Nobody even looked at the DNC server.
      Sure, Crowdstrike “investigated” it – and the FBI, as it routinely does, accepted their “findings” without question.
      Ukrainian owned Crowdstrike, that was both a DNC contractor and significant donor.
      And, of course, Wikileaks Vault_7 release and its disclosure of CIA digital spoof/frame-up development have been totally memory holed.
      Russia is so diabolical that they would’ve tricked everybody if they just hadn’t left cyrillic in their code…

  19. Wow, talk about conspiracy theories!

    We all know that Democrats absolutely abhor politicians who commit obstruction of justice even in the absence of underlying crimes. They just won’t tolerate that sort of thing; the rule of law is sacred to Democrats. Just look at everything they’ve said since the Mueller Report came out!

    Accordingly, we know all Senate Democrats unanimously voted to remove Bill Clinton from office as a result of his impeachment trial in 1999, which act completely destroyed his political influence, and then that of his wife for failing to divorce him. And thus his wife has never held or been nominated by the Democrats to hold office ever since.

    Which means, of course, the Russians couldn’t have influenced the 2016 election against Hillary Clinton, because the morally-upstanding Democratic Party never nominated her.

    1. “Which means, of course, the Russians couldn’t have influenced the 2016 election against Hillary Clinton,”

      Sure they could. It’s called voter suppression. Some 4 million (!) Obama voters didn’t vote for Clinton, if memory serves. Granted, candidate Clinton was a problematic choice (at least as was seen at the time),

      Funny how things change and how history shows us how wrong we were in dismissing Clinton. An opponent of tariffs, new green deals, reparations, socialized medicine. Aside from her thirst for military intervention, she’s about as Libertarian a politician there is. Hats off to P J O’ Rourke and other pundits who saw value in her and voted for her when they had the chance.

      1. They didn’t vote for her because they were all misogynists, obviously.

        1. “They didn’t vote for her because they were all misogynists, obviously.”

          I’m sure some were. Clinton seems to have a particular talent when it comes to rubbing misogynists the wrong way. But there were probably other voters who were suckered into staying home instead of voting for her. We mustn’t forget American voters are a naive lot and easily gulled. Those who weren’t enthralled by the prospect of an independent California or Texas were probably keen on Mexico paying for a big beautiful wall to keep them from straying over the border.

  20. “”The IRA purchased over 3,500 advertisements,” the report says, “and the expenditures totaled approximately $100,000″—roughly 0.0004 percent of Facebook’s ad revenue in 2016.”

    You must understand that Russian or Soviet secret services are run on a small budget, often employing American stooges who work for free. Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs, Wit Chambers etc. The same is happening today with, for example, campaigns to promote the separation of Texas or California. Commenters in these pages often take the Russian lead in calling for the break up of the USA. At no expense to Moscow.

    1. Or lengthy, laughable conspiracy theories about how a real estate developer was a secret Russian asset for decades. We watched as the media pissed away virtually all of its credibility chasing a fever dream with zero factual basis behind it. We saw a political party sell its soul to pimp this tragi-comic tale.

      And it only cost Russia a small amount of money. To watch so many US “institutions” commit ritual suicide because Hillary didn’t win an election.

      1. “Or lengthy, laughable conspiracy theories about how a real estate developer was a secret Russian asset for decades. We watched as the media pissed away virtually all of its credibility chasing a fever dream with zero factual basis behind it. We saw a political party sell its soul to pimp this tragi-comic tale.”

        Intelligence agencies and magicians have a word for this sort of thing – misdirection.

        1. Are you saying that damikesc is misdirecting or are you saying that the fever dreams of the last two years are misdirection for some other plot that is afoot?

          1. “you saying that the fever dreams of the last two years are misdirection for some other plot that is afoot?”

            I wouldn’t say that, because I don’t know, but it is plausible. I have a sense that there is more to this story than we’ve been led to believe. I have a similar sense about the whole 9/11 thing, so what do I know?

  21. “We’ve been hearing”? More like certain writers have been pushing.

    1. Well, if we’re hearing then someone is talking.

  22. Or maybe they fuck with us because they know how much weaker America is when we’re fighting each other and not our actual enemies.

  23. Has anyone here ever considered the crazy theory that maybe Russia… didn’t actually do much of anything?

    I know, I know – our government and media are usually honest.

    But isn’t it weird that Russia is spoken of like it’s the national embodiment of Emmanuel Goldstein?

    1. “Has anyone here ever considered the crazy theory that maybe Russia… didn’t actually do much of anything?”

      They don’t need to do much of anything. They have American stooges who will carry out their schemes, without a pay check or even a thankyou.

      1. Of course, we should just accept this at face value, even though nobody who says so has a clue what those schemes might be

        1. Because the people who do know aren’t talking. If only these secret services weren’t so secret!

  24. I mean if the goal of the russian meddling was to undermine the legitimacy of the president it was a clear success. Russians gave false information to a help formulate a dossier that was used to justify a investigation into a presidential candidate and spoonfeed propaganda to a willing media for two years. Along with running a troll farm whose primary objective was to steal information and identity fraud.

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