27.1.17

It's A Lying Shame. Fake Followers Are On The Increase (And 20% Of PRs Don't Care)

Although it started as an organic, raw and exciting way to share thoughts and opinions, there's no doubting that blogging has now become a numbers game. It's all about how many followers you've got on Instagram, what your Klout score is and the number of YouTube views each video gets. I get it, I really do; brands want to generate as much exposure as they possibly can and to get maximum return on their investment, so the number of eyeballs is the easiest thing to focus on. When historically we've all only had magazine circulation figures (often hugely inflated or manipulated) to go on, this is the one statistic that keeps being measured as the ultimate level of success - and expectations keep increasing. With some superstar bloggers and vloggers speaking to millions of people every single month, it's easy to get wrapped up in seeking as high a number as possible and using that as the only metric of success. However, this numbers-led culture within the bloggersphere is causing one huge problem that seems to be getting increasingly worse: bought followers.


It's surprisingly easy (and cheap) to buy your way to the top these days. All it takes is a couple of quid, a few minutes out of your day and BOOM you've got yourself another couple of thousand Instagram followers. The platforms that offer these services are becoming increasingly savvy, ensuring their fake accounts look and feel like real ones - they have real names, real faces and real photos on their own feeds, but if you look a little harder you start to see through the illusion. What's even more worrying is that these falsified accounts aren't just appearing on little known blogger's feeds, but on some of the most well known and respected in the industry; even one of the biggest UK beauty editors is well known for buying her way to 100k Instagram followers and as a result is heralded in the press as one of the best beauty insiders on social media.

Although that's a problem in itself (lies always get caught out in the end,) what I find increasingly worrying is the number of brands, PRs and industry insiders that know about these falsified audiences and continue to work with the bloggers regardless. I've had conversations with a handful of brand representatives myself about the issue and have been met with shrugged shoulders, only for them to book the influencer in question for a big campaign a few weeks later. I was worried and baffled: was I the only one thinking it was unethical to buy your way to the top, ask for money to be part of a campaign only for your audience to be significantly non-existent? As a result you may have seen the poll I ran a couple of weeks ago on Twitter (see the poll here,) which asked the question: "Do you care if (you suspect) a blogger has bought their social followers?"

The result was this: unsuprisingly 85% of the bloggers who answered said they did, with the remaining 15% not caring at all. (I get it: you may just like their content and don't give a rats arse what's going on with their following, real or otherwise. In fact some of the bloggers suspected to have hugely falsified followings are actual incredible content creators - which makes it even more frustrating.) However, 160 PRs answered my poll and around 20% of them admitted they didn't care if they knew or suspected an influencer had bought their followers. That means that around 20% of my sample study knowingly work with bloggers, vloggers or social media starts that they suspect or know to have a fake following. And do not care. Let’s just reiterate that once again: they do not care.

My problem with this is two fold: 1. that brands are being fed information on bloggers that is one-dimensional, inflated and inaccurate, so their ongoing expectations are distorted, and 2. that the bloggers in question are often charging a small fortune, getting the great campaigns and taking work away from other people that are working to build a true and authentic audience. When it’s no longer a free lipstick or invitation to a cocktail reception, and instead exotic holidays, designer handbags and campaigns that see their faces plastered over billboards and in stores nationwide, it’s time to start saying this is not ok. It's all very well and good to ignore it or think "don't worry, they'll get caught out in the end!" or "cheaters never get ahead!" But the problem is they are; they're getting ahead and they're getting ahead at the expense of everyone else.

My thoughts are somewhat torn on who is to blame for this current situation and who is making it worse. As bloggers we’re always being driven to justify why a brand should want to work with us, and those conversations 99% of the time focus on numbers; very few discussions involve influence, engagement or relevancy - because at the end of the day everyone's objective is to sell stuff, the focus should be on how likely an audience is to buy based on a recommendation or feature, not how many people may have seen a picture of it and scrolled on by. (Some of my blogger friends have much smaller audiences than me, but their engagement is insane; their followers lap up everything they say, buy everything they recommend and comment on every single thing they publish. You just can't buy that sh*t.) These questions and constant justifications make us all a little paranoid about our numbers, so it's easy to understand why some may feel the need to give themselves a helping hand. 

In a nutshell: brands want numbers, PRs need to deliver on numbers, PRs search for bloggers with big numbers so they can tick boxes and report on the great job they've done, bloggers feel a bit inadequate with all the questions and focus on numbers, bloggers buy followers, numbers make PR happy, PR makes brand happy by giving them big numbers. Do you see how it's a vicious circle? Until the circle ends, until everyone makes a concerted effort to educate brands about the importance of engagement and relevancy, this shady behaviours will continue and it's only going to get worse. I've heard so many stories about bloggers creating a whole fake identity and blagging their way into campaigns, launches, trips and experiences off of the back of a falsified Instagram account - because nobody bothered to check. I've seen digital influencers scoop their own makeup collaborations and big brand campaigns from an inflated social presence - because nobody bothered to check. If you're a PR or work with bloggers in some capacity, please take a little time and bother to check (for everyone involved.)

I've been running my blog for nearly seven years and I've had some amazing experiences and opportunities land in my inbox. It's hard not to compare yourself to people that have got twice the following you have in half the time, but I have to remind myself that I have a niche and I'm proud of that niche; everything I've done has been generated because of hard work, love and passion - not cheating. Although buying a few followers doesn't mean what the blogger produces doesn't have value (often the opposite,) it does seem incredibly unfair on those of us that creep up gradually with pure grit and determination. This kind of activity reflects badly on all of us; it reflects negatively on the industry as a whole, when we're already perceived as giggling girls with swishy hair and nothing much to say for themselves. We have to justify our existence so often that it's becoming exhausting, and this really isn't helping. Collectively we need to keep bossing it and proving that we DO have value, that we DO have something to say, that we DO have influence and we won't be going anywhere fast.

Right now I feel like I'm in the digital version of The Emperor's New Clothes: we all know the followers aren't real, including the said Emperor/Empress, but everyone is just smiling sweetly and applauding because they're afraid of whatever fall out will follow. Here's hoping fakeness isn't on-trend again this SS17.

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44 comments

  1. Yes to this!!!! Great post Hayley! I'm so sick of girls (and one particular boy!) buying fake followers and likes to match. It's getting ridiculous and I hate that some PR's don't seem to care.

    I also feel like bloggers aren't meant to be perfect, the whole point is that we are real people, yet if the blogger is pretty and thin, the brand seems not to care about fake followers. It's turning into a joke that's not funny

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    1. That's so much of a bigger issue, but yes! If these were chubby or WOC I'm sure they'd be called out or ignored; but because they're skinny white girls they can do no wrong. It's so frustrating.

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  2. the whole thing is beyond a joke now. Instagram is absolutely rife with it and for some reason twitteraudit isn't picking up fake followers. there's one account in particular that has 1000s of fake but twitteraudit only picks up 3%. Oh and there's someone on IG who's likes sit at around 100-200 then hours and sometimes days later they jump by hundreds or thousands and they are doing very very well from it. I could go on as so many are doing it and doing well from it too. It's outrageous.

    Anyway, it's a tricky situation but it has to be dealt with but how to do that is another matter. I know people have talked about some kind of code of ethics and I think something like this has to come about eventually, there's too much money involved. And actually it's not just money it's peoples perceptions, especially younger folk. I worry the impact this has on them. Oh God what a bag of shite xx

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    1. I tried setting up a code of ethics, but the problem is there's no way to enforce it and no way to make it mean anything. And there's no way to stop dodgy bloggers signing up to it and doing the opposite - in fact, on prolific instagram buyer has given an interview saying there needs to be a crackdown on it! The cheek.

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  3. As someone who is trying to grow their blog this is by far the most infuriating aspect.
    I find WordPress is great cause my subscribers never unsubscribe and are very loyal.
    Bloglovin has been a great platform for growth but unfortunately I find there is a 7-10% turnover rate here.

    Then you go to Twitter where people are apprehensive to subscribe and quick to leave. But Instagram takes the cake with about 40%-45% turnover rate for me. I can grow my followers and approximately half of my new followers are either spam or have left by the time I woke up.

    Great post! This is relatable to any blogger who is honestly trying to grow their blog. I DO NOT agree with buying followers.

    Your Friend,
    https://lidsandtricks.com/

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  4. Ugh what a world we live in :( It happens in so many more industries too where people buy themselves out of situations.

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  5. I always go on about this,it's so unfair on us honest folk that have taken time and effort to get this following. Somebody just walks along buys tons of followers and then gets handed so many things and for what? Grrr but it will never change as nobody will ever name and shame so it will carry on xxx

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    1. Believe me, we are trying to inform and educate behind the scenes - but you can't outright name and shame. It's unethical and puts the 'namer' in a horrific situation.

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  6. Great post and something I feel so strongly about! I've been blogging 5 years but only recently started taking it seriously. It's so annoying when you work hard on content and put effort in to growing your audience when others around you are paying their way to the top. Sad times for the blogging community, I'm just hoping the more we raise this issue the more PRs will listen!

    Katie x
    The Stylinguist

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    1. I'm hoping so too. They need to take responsibility, educate brands and champion bloggers that don't cut corners or fake it. Numbers don't necessarily mean anything - especially if they're bought.

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  7. Yes, Yes and Yes! I find it so frustrating that everything is a numbers game now and the passion for community has been commercialised. I feel like there's enough of the pie to go round, and bloggers with excellent engagement should be championed over accounts with obvious fake followers. Here's hoping things change.

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  8. When bloggers buy followers and get brand collabs off the back of those followers it is fraud. Plain and simple. I'm shocked so many PRs don't care!! As a decent and honest blogger I only want to work with PRs who are decent and honest too.

    Great pot Hayley - here's hoping that 2017 these dishonest bloggers are found out!! xx

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    1. I love that statement - I agree, I only want to work with decent and honest PRs and brands too. Those that understand and want to work ethically and for the benefit of all parties.

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  9. Thanks for highlighting what we are all thinking! The struggle is real and when you see this happening under your own nose it's infuriating!!! I know one person that has bought followers, copies and pastes their blog posts and was still featured in a national magazine, everyone knows how fake the person is but who cares right??

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    1. I've heard so much stuff like this happening. I've heard about some bloggers that PR themselves and get huge collabs and articles in mags, because nobody bothers to check. There's even one PR that's always featured on TV and in newspapers as an expert in digital media, but it's all made up! None of it exists!

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  10. So elegantly put as always. The conversation needs to be about how bloggers, brands and PR can work together on the merit of content. More emphasis needs to be on the 'influencer' and how much influence they actually have.

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    1. Thanks Ashanti. And yes absolutely. I'm so sick of seeing the same faces front campaigns and the same bloggers getting the opportunities - when so many others have killer networks and real influence.

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  11. It's definitely a strange world to be in, everyone trying to hard to one up each other!

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  12. I'm a blogger and I work within PR, the fact that 20% said they didn't care is outrageous to me! I can't believe it, I think it's become a little more known but numbers really aren't as much of a big deal any more! I want to work with people that are passionate and have a truely engaged audience. Such a great post and thank you for spreading the word, there needs to be a system making it easier to expose these people buying followers!

    Jodie / jodiemelissa.com

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    1. Thanks Jodie. Eventually they'll get found out and when brands realise they're just getting a pretty picture and not much else, hopefully they'll change tactic.

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  13. As long as I do the right thing, I'm not too bothered what everyone else does. Not because I agree with it - buying followers is rubbish and I'd unfollow in a heartbeat- but because in the absence of regulation, the only blogger I can control is myself.

    What's a real shame is it makes everyone suspicious of each other. When I read of a newbie blogger with 2,000 followers on Twitter etc I'm never sure whether to congratulate them or ask how much they paid!

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  14. I still can't believe some people don't mind if others are buying followers! Crazy stuff x

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  15. I do feel it does sting a lot as someone small and still struggling to build up an engaged and strong community to hear the numbers on this.Honestly,I'll say it is hard sometimes.Sometimes it's so tempting to buy a community that looks good on paper.But it would leave me feeling so empty inside.I believe in bonding with my audience and I'd say that's pretty hard if you brought them.


    www.cutieandherbeauty.com

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  16. It's so annoying that this happenes, I don't agree with buying fake followers, I like the feeling of achievement when my following grows organically

    http://ohduckydarling.com

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  17. Thanks for flagging in comments that we do try and right the wrongs behind the scenes... it's a uphill struggle really, but it's well worth people knowing that where the opportunity lies, we take it to try and educate. Also I don't think Instagram's stupid algorithm is not helping.. you can have plenty of genuine followers but because they don't show your content to all of them, you get a disproportionate follower/like ratio which means everyone is suspecting everyone else! That's not good for the blogosphere in general.

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    1. I totally agree. My engagement rate is awful, so it's easy to assume someone has inflated when they haven't. And yes, we make such an effort to educate and inform behind the scenes - but it's such a slow process.

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  18. This is such a bug-bear at the moment, when you're working really hard, and seeing other people with naughty numbers that don't add up. But as Leah said, I want to know that my numbers are mine through hard work and any opportunities I get are because of that, and acquired honestly.

    I've also got a real issue with the follow/unfollow thing on Instagram at the moment too, it seems to be out of hand lately. That's also super dishonest, and it's making me so cross and putting me off a lot of people who I've previously really liked. Why can't they just get their follower numbers the good old fashioned way? Le sigh.

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    1. I think people are panicking and trying to do anything to get their numbers up; I understand, I really do. When livelihood and opportunities rely on numbers, it's easy to get blindsided. Until the brands change, the bloggersphere won't.

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  19. I love this post and must say there are times I just want to delete my Instagram. All of this has became so bad the past year and now even engagement is manipulated. I used to love Instagram so much. Some bloggers have so many comments (they are exploding!) but they are so superficial and often just emoticons are used because they want to overcome the Instagram algorithm and form groups. I often talk about this with my husband but both of us say cheating is not an option. I couldn't respect myself anymore and also how do I know what people really love and what I need to improve? I was signed with an agency in Germany but left it because they didn't help me at all. All the others are young bloggers who did something to their accounts and mine was growing super slow, I just felt lost plus the agency wanted to give the same products to every blogger, there wasn't even a PR strategy behind it.

    Love,

    Kirsten xx

    www.thelifbissue.com

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    1. Your insta is so lovely Kirsten that I hope you never do! Agencies are difficult and tricky - unless you fit into a mould or have super numbers they often don't know what to do with you.

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  20. I think it is so ridiculous that influencers are buying followers. I personally see gaining followers as a reward for doing well, for example I put in the effort to create visually appeasing content to gain followers leading to the hopeful success of my blog. Yet you get some bloggers who do literally buy their way to the top, which I think is not only fake as hell but *in my opinion* makes the influencer less respectable & trustworthy! I'll be honest before I started blogging & right at the beginning I used to follow so many people and then unfollow them which I hastily stopped when I noticed it was doing more bad than good! I'm proud to not have hundreds of thousands of followers because ALL of my followers were earned though hard work and determination -xo

    chloedanielle.co.uk

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    1. A great attitude to have Chloe!

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  21. Ooo, Hello from the other side - backstory: I initially started blogging over 5 years ago, but was quickly turned off by the numbers game effect. I say “otherside” because I have been down the 'follower trafficking' route. After some research on how people were so “famous” in their niche, I found FIVVER, after a quick $10NZD I would see my Facebook following climb from 220, to over 10K. I had read via Direct marketing schemes that people will only follow if they see you already have a following - cult effect. After I spent my $10NZD, and gained 10K followers on Facebook, I posted around 3 to 5 posts, and QUICKLY realized the only people that were interacting with my posts, were some of the original 220. I was DEVASTATED. My shortcut created a huge blow to my self esteem, and my integrity. I had cheated myself out of being a genuine person. It’s been about 4 years since my Trafficking offence and my 10K has dwindled down to just over 1.5K - I am now actively blogging again after 3 years, and although I’ve revived my Facebook page, (still cheating) I know that I value actual interaction via comments. Ultimately although I’ve never made a dime from my blogging, I have definitely gained respect all bloggers regardless of built or bought followings, if their content is useful to me, emotionally spiritually or just gives me a new insight, does it really matter? Although I do envy, that my shortcut didn’t make me the next Jaclyn Hill, I’m grateful for the moral guidance it provided. — should I still shamelessly plug blog, even though I'm technically one of those shady bisshes. hahahaa. Each to their own, money speaks more to some than integrity ever will.

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    1. That's the problem with all this - they have to keep buying, keep faking and it's an endless circle. I'm fascinated to know what will happen moving forward and how the industry will change as a result.

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    2. I guess they will have to evolve, especially if they are paying these "influencers" big bucks, but getting minimal return. Fake accounts won't be making purchases, so they will begin limitations, and/or vetting creators. But when you have some advertising sites stating minimum of 1000 viewers/subscribers its understandable that people feel the need to buy there way to the top. It's an interesting battle for sure.

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  22. I've spent 2 yrs growing my Instagram (Twitter is taking a lot longer as I just don't love it), and I'm trying to work on my engagement and whilst my numbers aren't huge, I'm proud that I've done it the proper way, the long way. I might never get amazing opportunities or deals, but the majority of followers I do engage with are amazing. I don't see the point in buying followers at all. It annoys me enough when clearly fake accounts follow me on Instagram, so I don't understand why people would spend money on that. Plus, that money could go on makeup.

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    1. So many people with smaller followings have way better engagement - some of my mates have 5 or 10k and their engagement is insane! Numbers aren't everything.

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  23. Great post Hayley. It's so infuriating for bloggers (like myself) who plug on with hard work to try and move forward, to then see people who have barely started suddenly have millions of followers. I've been finding Instagram very strange at the moment, as for the last few months my follower count has stayed at the exact same number, despite getting numerous notifications to say I've had new followers. I'd understand if my numbers went down or something, as I know people probably unsubscribe, but it seems a bit strange for it to stay exactly the same. So I think as well as people buying followers, there's some very odd things going on with some of the social media apps! The whole thing just makes it more stressful for honest bloggers that just want to do their best and make a living. And like Leah said in her comment above - at the end of the day it's fraud! So good to see someone raising awareness of it :)

    Jenny xx

    www.jaffacat.co.uk

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  24. I find it kind of crazy that brands don't care. Who do they think is engaging with their advertised product?! Obviously fake people. That may edge up their numbers in the beginning, but when they're counting inventory and profits, they're not going to see much. You're right - people will get found out, because it's 2017, and there's no hiding anything from the internet. I just wonder if they'll care at all after that.

    The Crimson Cardigan

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  25. Really appreciate this post, thank you Hayley!
    I do a lot of blogger outreach for a skincare brand and always take the time to really look at a blog and how the blogger engages with their readers. Having been a blogger, engagement is so much more important then follower numbers. I really admire the bloggers who work hard at what they do and it shows. I fear that the whole "bought followers" thing will only get more common as becoming an "influencer" is the new cool thing to be. Such a shame for the people who really work hard!

    Thanks for highlighting this!

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  26. Interesting read and as someone who spans the PR/Blogger line I find it frustrating that 20% of PR's don't actually care?! I know my clients wouldn't be happy if I suggested working with someone who had a high % of fake followers.
    As a blogger I also find Instagram's algorithm AWFUL! Why did they have to change something that wasn't broken.

    Kylie
    www.delphineblu.com

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  27. Thanks for this Hayley, it's so important that this gets called out as much as possible. As a small blogger it can be really frustrating when you know you're working really hard to holistically grow your following, and as an established blogger it must be infuriating when you've already put that hard work in and others aren't. It can be really quite disheartening.

    We must just hope that continuing to stick to our morals, writing great content and engaging with our followers will shine through in the end. But posts like this most definitely help!

    Anna x
    www.glass-shoes.com

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  28. Amen to everything you have said here. It is SO frustrating when, as a teeny tiny blogger with a full time job, I try to produce good, readable, interesting content, and am consistently usurped by bloggers with thousands of fake followers. I know I'm not the only one! I'm glad to hear that the majority of PRs are bothered about it though!

    Beekeyper - latest - Tarte Maneater Eye Palette Review and Swatches

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  29. Very thoughtful, well-written article. As someone with integrity and as a blogger, I totally feel why the idea of buying followers can nag on you. I'm coming around to the idea of who cares tho... Instead of spying who has real v. fake followers, I think it's better to invest that time into yourself. However small, it's negativity and feeding on it and comparing blogger stats is fruitless.

    On the PR side, I work in PR and I know that you have so MANY lead sources and never put all your eggs in one basket. So, I can totally understand why some answered your poll that way or shrugged. If the blogger's writing is on par, the photography is great, they share on social media as requested - I'd say the blogger did their job. You might not like how they "got" the job, but they did it. And that's something that I don't think will be changing anytime soon.

    Also - remember Instagram is not the end-all-be-all.

    xoxo - Kelly
    www.dreaminlace.com

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