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Russia's Former KGB Invests In Political Propaganda Spambots 164

Posted by timothy
from the in-post-soviet-russia dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The newspaper Kommersant reports that the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (formerly part of the KGB) has invested 30 million roubles (USD $940,000) on 'blog and social network intelligence' programs (Google translation of Russian original). A small part of that money is used for surveillance and analytics, but 22 million roubles (USD $690,000) is invested in 'mass distribution of messages in social networks with a view to the formation of public opinion.' Which presumably can be rephrased as 'launching massive pro-Kremlin astroturfing propaganda spambots in order to stifle and undermine political dissent.' The brazen Russian government acknowledgement of this investment indicates that the Kremlin does not think of such activities to be in any way illegal or unethical. No words whether these spambots would respect any anti-spam laws or the Terms and Conditions of victim websites. But hey, now you can accuse anyone you disagree with online of being a 'KGB bot'!"
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Russia's Former KGB Invests In Political Propaganda Spambots

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  • by bmo (77928) on Monday August 27, 2012 @01:12AM (#41134399)

    So who is going to be the first one to restart Kremvax?

    --
    BMO

    • by Anonymous Coward

      i wanna make sweet love to ya

      • by bmo (77928)

        I'll bet you say that to all the boys.

        --
        BMO

        • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Monday August 27, 2012 @02:39AM (#41134693) Journal

          indicates that the Kremlin does not think of such activities to be in any way illegal or unethical

           
          I have to confess that I did feel a little bit queasy reading what Timothy has posted
           
          This world that we live in today, where "paid reviews", "forum astroturfing", "blog spamming" and "rabid fanboyism" are been actively encouraged and sponsored by for profit corporations such as Microsoft, Adobe, Apple Inc., - mainly from the Western democracies - any effort in linking Russia to similar "illegal" and/or "unethical" activities is futile
           
          It was the West who have fine-tuned activities such as being described in TFA to an art-form, in the first place
           

          • by beerbear (1289124) on Monday August 27, 2012 @03:41AM (#41134909)
            That sounds like something a KGB bot would say!
            • by Randym (25779)
              But hey, now you can accuse anyone you disagree with online of being a 'KGB bot'!

              That sounds like something a KGB bot would say!

              Great -- a new twist on Godwin's Law.

          • by cbraescu1 (180267)

            This world that we live in today, where "paid reviews", "forum astroturfing", "blog spamming" and "rabid fanboyism" are been actively encouraged and sponsored by for profit corporations such as Microsoft, Adobe, Apple Inc., - mainly from the Western democracies - any effort in linking Russia to similar "illegal" and/or "unethical" activities is futile

            if you can't distinguish between private businesses and a government intelligence agency then, my friend, you're a moron.

            Is that simple.

            • by jenningsthecat (1525947) on Monday August 27, 2012 @04:18AM (#41135011)

              This world that we live in today, where "paid reviews", "forum astroturfing", "blog spamming" and "rabid fanboyism" are been actively encouraged and sponsored by for profit corporations such as Microsoft, Adobe, Apple Inc., - mainly from the Western democracies - any effort in linking Russia to similar "illegal" and/or "unethical" activities is futile

              if you can't distinguish between private businesses and a government intelligence agency then, my friend, you're a moron.

              Is that simple.

              if you can't distinguish between private businesses and a government intelligence agency then, my friend, you see things as they really are and haven't drunk the corporate Kool-aid.

              FTFY

            • > if you can't distinguish between private businesses and a government intelligence agency then, my friend, you're a moron.

              Because I can always use my God-given liberty to decline to do business with Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, and so forth, but the Russian government can legitimately use force against me? That's why they have different standards of accountability, right?

              If I were Russian, that might make some sense, but I'm pretty sure the Russian government can't legitimately use force against me. Declini

            • by rtb61 (674572)

              We all can distinguish between government and corporations. When corporations do it, often it is far, far worse. When governments do it, there is a whole layer of accountability which means, that the elected types will always end up being stabbed in the back and exposed. The reality if course the true reality is of course governments can not do most of this shit without the fully comply and collusory assistance of select corporations. Just look at all those corporation who has assisted despots in the wors

          • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Monday August 27, 2012 @07:20AM (#41135529) Journal

            The western capitalist system has no need for state propaganda. The masses are all to happy to watch, devour no worship the opinions and lifestyles of the 1% who tell them that the 1% deserve to be the top and everyone else has a chance too even if they never ever get even remotely close with their part time burger flipping job.

            What am I talking about? Media. Name ONE person in Media who makes less then 100.000 dollars per year. One TV celeb, just ONE! In many ways, Reality TV is a very risky move, showing the non-1% and allowing them to speak? Showing that work is hard and dangerous and it never gets any better? OOPS! Ah but luckily, reality stars get payed big, so soon they are the 1% too.

            Public opinion in the West is made on TV and TV makes big money for all involved. Of course they are going to be pro-big money. It is like asking Oprah on how to make it from day to day with just 2 dollars per day for food. She eats ten dollars in a single snack. She hasn't lived the live of her audience in decades.

            And she is not alone. Rappers? The ones you know ain't from the hood anymore, they live in guarded mansions and drive in armored cars.

            American propaganda is simple, it shows only the lottery winners, 1 lucky winner won 300 million! Watch and admire him and aspire to do the same. Saying tat 300 million people lost a dollar they could have spend better... that would not be such a good ad.

            Everyone who you see in America on TV, has made it. What better way to indoctrinate the American Dream.

            But hey, why believe me, I am posting on the blogsite of poster boys of the American Dream. After all, they made it, so so could you. Right? It couldn't possibly be that the 1% by definition will always be the 1%? Nah, that is commy thinking. Everyone can be the 1% if they just work hard.

            • by trawg (308495)

              The western capitalist system has no need for state propaganda.

              Actually, in Australian, political spamming is basically except from our spam legislation. See the ACMA [acma.gov.au] (the body here that is responsible for handling spam complaints):

              Electronic messages from certain sources are exempted from the Spam Act. These include messages from:

              government bodies
              registered political parties
              charities
              religious organisations
              educational institutions (sent to current and former students and their households).

              We had an incident here a couple years ago where one of our prime ministers paid his son's IT company to send spam [smh.com.au] on his behalf.

              It is not really widely done - I think people are too scared of becoming labeled as jerk spammers as happened to Howard - but the fact that they've left these loopholes in the legislation is a little irritating.

    • by stox (131684)

      and nsacray.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    just like the US.

    • by jcr (53032) <jcrNO@SPAMmac.com> on Monday August 27, 2012 @03:08AM (#41134797) Journal

      No, the US government spends vastly more money on this kind of thing. $940K is barely even a rounding error in the federal propaganda budget.

      -jcr

      • Re:just like the US (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Burz (138833) on Monday August 27, 2012 @05:17AM (#41135181) Journal

        No, the US government spends vastly more money on this kind of thing. $940K is barely even a rounding error in the federal propaganda budget.

        -jcr

        Indeed, and we're brazen about it, too.

        The difference I see is that Russian news doesn't blatantly lead into news stories with comments like, "The same government that corralled natives away from most of the country and then conducted germ warfare against them...". Or, "The ex-Opium War aggressor today is making news with...". At least not since the USSR.

        Americans and other native anglophones of all stripes love them some Russophobia (which is why I'll probably be modded down), and they'll find opportunities to serve it up with just about anything. The only way that Russian characters ever seem to be redeemed on US television shows is if they have emigrated to an anglophone country, or are trying to do so. A Russian who wants to stay a Russian national (or to belong to another non-English speaking country) is portrayed as a villain -- every single time I have viewed.

        • No, the US government spends vastly more money on this kind of thing. $940K is barely even a rounding error in the federal propaganda budget.

          -jcr

          Indeed, and we're brazen about it, too.

          The difference I see is that Russian news doesn't blatantly lead into news stories with comments like, "The same government that corralled natives away from most of the country and then conducted germ warfare against them...". Or, "The ex-Opium War aggressor today is making news with...". At least not since the USSR.

          Americans and other native anglophones of all stripes love them some Russophobia (which is why I'll probably be modded down), and they'll find opportunities to serve it up with just about anything. The only way that Russian characters ever seem to be redeemed on US television shows is if they have emigrated to an anglophone country, or are trying to do so. A Russian who wants to stay a Russian national (or to belong to another non-English speaking country) is portrayed as a villain -- every single time I have viewed.

          Agreed, but I wish to remind you that there are still Nazi supporters out there, as well. Their party isn't doing too well with offin' the Jews or anything.

          Given time, this guy in the limelight will get ignored, blocked, and eventually silenced by "Populace, The Destructor."

          :)

        • by mrex (25183)

          What surprises me isn't the criticism/phobia of Russia. Russia is a kind of scary, totalitarian place run by mafias who are run by the FSB.

          What surprises me is that we seem to have forgotten that we can't criticize and be afraid of Russia for doing exactly the same shit we do, only on a smaller scale than we do it on.

          If Russia is evil for doing this, and we do this, then ___________.

        • A Russian who wants to stay a Russian national (or to belong to another non-English speaking country) is portrayed as a villain -- every single time I have viewed.

          What continues to amaze me, is that American movie directors hire REAL Russian actors so rarely. It doesn't matter if the character is a villain or not, if he can't even speak his "native" language properly.

          Your post made me wonder if they do it on purpose, so that even Russian language would wound stupid, ugly and gibberish.

      • by RDW (41497)

        No, the US government spends vastly more money on this kind of thing. $940K is barely even a rounding error in the federal propaganda budget.

        To be fair, this does buy you some pretty sophisticated technology. 'An anonymous reader' is clearly a CIA bot, but this story reads almost like a human posted it ('But hey' is a nice touch).

  • by beaverdownunder (1822050) on Monday August 27, 2012 @01:14AM (#41134407)

    In Putin's Russia, Twitter Updates You...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    much less than the USA spends, then?

  • They're amateurs (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    This mr. Anonymous Reader does not have a clue. With the military budget of the US, they could do:
    - http://thenextweb.com/socialmedia/2011/11/04/the-cia-is-watching-us-intelligence-teams-monitor-5-million-tweets-every-day/
    - http://www.theinsider.org/news/article.asp?id=2229
    - http://mashable.com/2012/05/23/fbi-spy-on-skype/
    - http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/mar/17/us-spy-operation-social-networks
    etc

    If the FBI and CIA could do it for a lousy 1 million dollar, they'd chosen for this option too. This i

  • by yeltski (1438587) on Monday August 27, 2012 @01:34AM (#41134471)
    Seriously? It's been more than 20 years, how long does it take for you Americans to move on from your Cold War Hollywood production induced knowledge base of the world? Next, you'll find out that CIA spends millions on recruitment and *gasp* pro-WhiteHouse astroturfing propaganda in order to stifle and undermine political dissent.
    • by kamapuaa (555446)

      "yeltski" - could you be any more obvious that you're a KGB spambot?

      • by yeltski (1438587)
        Yes, I could, if I didn't use the name of the first president of Russia, who abolished KGB.
        • "Yes, I could, if I didn't use the name of the first president of Russia, who renamed KGB."
          FTFY
          • by unixisc (2429386)
            No, it was disbanded and replaced by 2 different agencies - FSB and SVR. I don't doubt that a some of their staff is unchanged, but I'd imagine that a lot of non-Russian officers would have moved back to their countries - personnel from Ukraine, Uzbekistan, et al.
            • by GCsoftware (68281)
              Belarus too, where the org is still called KGB. Gotta love the Belarussian regime, it has some balls.
              • by idontgno (624372)

                Yup Belarus is standing at the windows of the world giving it the ol' pressed ham and yelling "perestroika this!*".

                I don't know whether to rage or admire.

                ----
                *I'm sure this is grammatically incorrect, as well as wrong on many other levels. I'm OK with this.

      • by azalin (67640)
        I'm looking forward to the Obama-Romney bot war because it might be an actual improvement on the quality of the average statement.
    • by unixisc (2429386)

      Precisely! The KGB broke up in 1991, and its replacement organizations for Russia is the FSB (domestic) and SVR (foreign espionage). The FSB was the organization that poisoned Alexander Litvinenko. The SVR is apparently what's being described here.

      Currently, Belarus' intelligence agency [wikipedia.org] is still called the KGB. South Ossetia, which broke away from Georgia in the 1990s, too has that name for its intelligence agency. But that's no longer the name for either of Russia's intelligence agencies, even if th

  • by methamorph (950510) on Monday August 27, 2012 @01:34AM (#41134475)

    So instead of a link to the original story we get a link to Google translate?

    • It cracks me up that you're the first person to even notice that.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Is this it?
      http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/2009256 [kommersant.ru]

    • by ACS Solver (1068112) on Monday August 27, 2012 @02:07AM (#41134615)

      Link to story: http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/2009256 [kommersant.ru]

      Interesting moments are as follows. There are three projects for which software has been requested. One is for "researching the methods of intelligence in Internet centers and regional segments of social networks", another is for "researching the unofficial methods of management on the Internet", and finally work on "methods for advancing special information in social networks". So essentially, it's figuring out how to make certain information popular on social networks, and figuring out the dynamics and largely emergent social structures within these networks. These are designed to work together, ultimately with the bots capable of "massive dissemination of information in specified social networks using existing user accounts, with the goal of forming the public opinion".

      Given that the SVR is behind this, it's likely that the intent, at least originally, is to use this abroad, not within Russia. The article says so and quotes a source saying ex-USSR countries would be the first target. That bit certainly looks realistic given the geopolitical situation there, with Russia essentially being in a state of low-key information warfare versus some former Soviet states.

    • by udachny (2454394)

      Here is that silly article from Kommersant [kommersant.ru].

      After reading it I don't think it should be taken seriously (it's not your NSA or CIA, Russia doesn't have the kind of people right now that would take a project like this seriously and not just steal the money).

      My quick translation:

      Kommersant's sources say that the intelligence agency started a number of programs, with code names 'Storm-12', 'Monitor-3' and 'Dispute' back in January-February of 2012. The idea is to create following programs:

      1. To investigate metho

  • Isn't this sorta like what's going on in the US with the Tea Party?
    • by c0lo (1497653)

      Isn't this sorta like what's going on in the US with the Tea Party?

      Naaah... the Tea Party is maintained by private initiative astroturfers - there's nothing better for efficiency than the free market... or so they say.

  • that they caught up to the US but they still need to pay hordes of astroturfers to equalize the playing field.
    Hey Putin, how about Gazprom runs its own political propaganda organization? You could call it a "Think tank."

    • by azalin (67640)
      I guess both the Russians and the US have been thinking tanks for quite a long time.
  • Soviet tradtions (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cold fjord (826450)

    It appears that the Russians are working to restore and update the Russian nee Soviet state's ability to conduct political warfare, which was quite powerful. Some of the lies they spread have yet to die down. Since the Russian state seems to heading back towards Soviet methods and attitudes, everyone should be concerned.

    Soviets Sponsor Spread of AIDS Disinformation [latimes.com]

    A Soviet political warfare manual comments on 'socialist education' [typepad.com]

    Soviet methods did not spare their allies [youtube.com].

    A Portrait of Stalin: Secret Police [youtube.com]

    • by yeltski (1438587)
      Oh okey. And the only time no one should be concerned is when Russia doesn't want to assert any of it's interests, pays reparations, gives everyone resources for free and decreases it's population to zero. That would still probably not get you to stop spamming this capitalist propaganda crap.
      • by jpapon (1877296)

        WASHINGTON — In October 1985, the influential Soviet weekly Literaturnaya Gazeta (Literary Gazette) published an article alleging that the U.S. government had engineered the AIDS virus during biological warfare research. The story further claimed that the virus was being spread throughout the world by U.S. servicemen who had been used as guinea pigs for the experiments.

        That's "capitalist propaganda"?

        So you're saying that the US government intentionally released the HIV virus into the wild? That's quite an assertion.

        Do you have any proof of this claim? Because if you do, you could bring to light the most depraved act since the Holocaust.

        Oh, what's that? You don't? The "capitalist propaganda" is just an article writing about some disinformation spread by the Soviets? Too bad.

      • Easy there, comrade, you are becoming overheated! Just wander over to the samovar [youtube.com] and enjoy. If you want to be a defender of Moscow [youtube.com], that is fine. But, if you wish to fight a sacred war [youtube.com], make sure you do it for a good cause.

        During Brezhnev's time a Soviet officer teaching cadets made the point that all of the organs of control and oppression under Stalin still existed, but that no one had the strength of will to grasp and use them as Stalin did. If enough people fight the wrong battles, they may find th

        • by jpapon (1877296)
          I take issue with that Harvard article blaming Communism for the atrocities of Stalin and Mao.

          Do we condemn Democracy for the extermination of the Native Americans, slavery, apartheid, the atrocities committed by the British in India and China, and so on?

          No, we don't. We blame the people who committed the actions.

          Condemning Communism because of the actions of Stalin or Mao is simply ignorant.

          • by cbraescu1 (180267)

            Condemning Communism because of the actions of Stalin or Mao is simply ignorant.

            My dear, you are an ignorant cretin when saying these cretinous words. Both Stain and Mao *applied* the Communist doctrine and in doing so they sent tens of millions to their graves. The actions of Stalin and Mao were undoubtedly a direct consequence of their Communist policies.

            When you're too brainwashed to accept facts, please stop commenting on them on the Internet, you're wasting precious bandwidth.

            • Um, do you have any idea what Communism even means or have you attended an American school all your life? No one has ever applied Communism because Communism is literally a stateless and classless society. The Soviet Union was in no way Communist, it had a authoritarian state and a ruling class after all, but it served their interests (keeping power) to call themselves such and it served the interests of the US to call them that (to demonize anyone who would oppose the capitalist elite as sympathizing with

            • by jpapon (1877296)

              Both Stain and Mao *applied* the Communist doctrine and in doing so they sent tens of millions to their graves.

              No they didn't. They applied their own doctrines that were practically completely unrelated to Communism.

              You could just as easily say Hitler was applying Democratic policies. He was, after all, appointed Chancellor by a democratically elected President.

              See how crazy that sounds? That's exactly how crazy you sound when you say Mao or Stalin were actually applying Communist principles. They weren't. They were dictators.

              The only governments that have come close to being Communist were the 1872 Paris Com

            • by Alex Belits (437) *

              Condemning Communism because of the actions of Stalin or Mao is simply ignorant.

              My dear, you are an ignorant cretin when saying these cretinous words. Both Stain and Mao *applied* the Communist doctrine and in doing so they sent tens of millions to their graves. The actions of Stalin and Mao were undoubtedly a direct consequence of their Communist policies.

              When you're too brainwashed to accept facts, please stop commenting on them on the Internet, you're wasting precious bandwidth.

              I have absolutely nothing against any effort to shout down idiocy like this -- by former KGB or anyone else. US propaganda filled up all forms of media to the point of saturation, mostly in the form of the idiots (like one quoted above) repeating other idiots' statements without understanding their origin, creating a veneer of legitimacy for blatantly baseless propaganda talking points.

              After all, it's less work (and less aggravation) for me.

    • It appears that the Russians are working to restore and update the Russian nee Soviet state's ability to conduct political warfare, which was quite powerful. Some of the lies they spread have yet to die down. Since the Russian state seems to heading back towards Soviet methods and attitudes, everyone should be concerned.

      Comrad, I am sure you did not mean insult motherland by your post. I give editing for free and you use it. It is better, for Russia, for you and for your family. I see them on Facebook. They look happy. Let us keep them happy together. Update as follow:

      It appears that the Russians are working to restore and update the New Russian state's ability to conduct affairs of state, which is quite powerful. Some of the stories they spread have yet to die down. Since the Russian state seems to heading forward

    • Soviets Sponsor Spread of AIDS Disinformation

      A Soviet political warfare manual comments on 'socialist education'

      Soviet methods did not spare their allies.

      A Portrait of Stalin: Secret Police

      Add to this: Protocols of the Elders of Zion [wikipedia.org]:

      The Protocols is a fabricated document purporting to be factual. It was originally produced in Russia between 1897 and 1903, possibly by Pyotr Ivanovich Rachkovsky, head of the Paris office of the Russian Secret Police, and unknown others.[2][3]

      • Protocols were a product of Russian Imperial propaganda, there were no Soviets back then.

      • The Protocols is a fabricated document purporting to be factual. It was originally produced in Russia between 1897 and 1903, possibly by Pyotr Ivanovich Rachkovsky, head of the Paris office of the Russian Secret Police, and unknown others.[2][3]

        ...a-a-a-and this "book" was highly admired by Henry Ford, the American Icon and Nazi supporter. What a funny world we live in, don't we?

    • U.S.S.R. is long dead, while U.S.A. continues to do what it did throughout the Cold War. Protecting economic and military interests of American elites all over the world with poker face on, even at the cost of great suffering of local population. I am no fan of Soviet Empire or current mafia government of Russia, but hey, let's be honest.

  • KGB Bot un-friends you!

    • by ultranova (717540)

      KGB Bot un-friends you!

      Hardly. KGB Bot is everyone's friend, for no one has anything to hide from the KGB Bot, and no one would want to miss having KGB Bots messages on their wall, unless they're traitors. You're not a traitor, now are you?

  • All this money will be stolen. I swear.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    At least the russians are transparent about it. How many governments do it in the shadow?
    Argentina government since a couple of years ago is known to infiltrate twitter and facebook with thousands of fake virtual accounts that supports (spanish) [tn.com.ar] the current government. They also have an army of people actively checking internet and posting in forums, they discovered them by correlation with working hours (nobody post after 6 pm, nicks are auto-generated using a known algorithm and stuff like that)
    I bet the

  • The notion that the FSB, the successor in interest to the KGB, would have any qualms whatsoever about ignoring the "Terms of Service" of an American or European website is laughable. These are people who kill as a matter of doing business, so the fact that their spam bots violate US or European laws doesn't concern them, even in the slightest. The only reason to suggest otherwise is to make an ironic joke.
    • by hughk (248126)
      This is the SVR not the FSB. The SVR is the main organisation doing extra-territorial activities while the FSB is domestic only. The two organisations retain connections but are under different management.
  • by prefec2 (875483) on Monday August 27, 2012 @02:37AM (#41134687)

    So the Russian secret service does the same shit companies do. they want to bend public opinion in their direction. However, normally (as in Western countries) governments do not need to do that, because the media is on their side (or to be more precise the government is on the side of the media). So the move in Russia indicates, that the mass population moves away from classic media as their source of information towards other platforms and therefore they have to control those too. So in short. They control the media (as like in a dictatorship) and now this Internet thing causes disruption. So they try to control it too.

    What shall I say? I am not surprised. I am only surprised that it came out. But, I guess that does not hurt the endeavor.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...but the KGB bots modded it down.

  • By the way, is this /. story a test of a kind? Because the link that says: "Google translation" literally leads to Google's translator page and nothing else.

    I found the silly article from Kommersant that this story is about, here it is [kommersant.ru].

    After reading it I don't think it should be taken seriously (it's not your NSA or CIA, Russia doesn't have the kind of people right now that would take a project like this seriously and not just steal the money).

    My quick translation:

    Kommersant's sources say that the intellig

  • Everyone in the free world should read the closing statements from the members of the punk band Puss Riot http://nplusonemag.com/pussy-riot-closing-statements [nplusonemag.com]- A fascinating insight in how the oppressive system works on individual levels.

    One defendant's psych eval identified her values as: "justice, mutual respect, humaneness, equality, and freedom."

    Those are values that I hope still define the majority of people in the free world!
    And we should NEVER forget to defend them in our societies.
  • the same as what Apple is doing on slashdot? Let AC's and dead accounts post pro-apple bullshit in every apple-related article only for them to be silent again until the next apple-related article?
  • RU is late to the game, 'mass distribution of messages in social networks with a view to the formation of public opinion.'

    Sometimes I suspect MS, other businesses/lobbyist, mega-churches, and PACs, are already acting like government G2Agencies on /., Facebook, Twitter, Wired ... with automated SocialPolicyAgents (SPAgents).

    So, why argue with GIGO SPAgents? SPAgents work in the best interest of a few of the $public$.

  • Instead of paying $1,000 per toilet seat, they now just say what they're doing. The CIA and military agencies should take note.
  • We spambot you!

  • Facebook spam you

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