Agenda-­‐Setting  in  Social  Media         The  Role  of  Agenda-­‐Setting  in  Social  Media:   A  Look  at

 the  Relationship  Between  Twitter  and  the  Mass  Media’s  Agenda   Jordan  Thorndyke   Elon  University                                  

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 and  Al  Jezeera.   The  New  York  Times.  The  implication  associated  with  this  relationship   would  predict  hat  Twitter  could  be  a  strong  and  accurate  measure  of  public  opinion   if  the  prominent  conversations  on  the  site  revolved  around  the  popular  headlines  of   the  day.  The  researcher  found  that  there  is  little  to  no  overlap  between  trending   topics  and  major  news  headlines.  The  researcher  hypothesized  that  trending  topics  would  mimic  the   major  headlines  from  each  day.  The  researcher  performed  a   content  analysis  of  worldwide  news  headlines  from  three  popular  sources:  The  BBC.  Twitter  could  still  be  used  to  measure  public   opinion  by  incorporating  other  search  tools  and  features.  but  also  identified  many  weaknesses  and   limitations  associated  with  the  study.                       .Agenda-­‐Setting  in  Social  Media   Abstract   This  paper  provides  a  look  at  the  relationship  between  the  agenda-­‐setting  function   2   of  mass  media  and  popular  topics  on  social  media  sites.  and  compared  headlines  to  trending  topics  on   Twitter  to  see  how  the  social  media  site  responds  to  the  agenda  set  forth  by  the   mass  media.  Despite  a  nonexistent  correlation  between  the   news  agenda  and  trending  topics.

 Citizens.  two  mass   3   communication  researchers.  write  about.Agenda-­‐Setting  in  Social  Media   Research  Agenda     This  paper  examines  the  way  that  the  agenda-­‐setting  function  of  the  mass   media  works  in  social  media  environments.  Max  McCombs  (1972)  that  the  media  is   successful  in  telling  the  public  which  issues  are  most  important  for  their   consideration.  Max  McCombs  and  Donald  Shaw.  and  magazines.  The  paper  will  first  define  agenda-­‐setting.       With  the  evolution  of  the  digital  age.   This  paper  seeks  to  answer  the  following  question:  Do  conversations  existing  on   social  media  sites  represent  the  agenda  set  forth  by  popular  media  sources?       Introduction     In  the  early  1970s.  Citizen  journalism  has   shifted  power  from  traditional  media  sources  to  individuals.  now  have  the  power  to  set  the  agenda.  developed  the  agenda-­‐setting  theory  to  explain  the  way   that  the  media  influences  and  affects  the  perceptions  of  the  mass  public.  the  research  will  tie  in  public   opinion  and  the  role  that  agenda-­‐setting  and  social  media  play  in  policy  making.  the     .  and  then  delve  into  the   popular  social  media  site.  and  the  ways  that  it  is  able  to  predict  the  most   popular  conversations  existing  on  the  site.  but  it  only  applies  to  traditional   media  such  as  newspapers.  and  learn  about.  The  theory   was  revolutionary  and  groundbreaking  at  the  time.    as  well  as  the   media.  the  idea  of  agenda-­‐setting  in  the   traditional  sense  should  no  longer  be  the  only  conversation.  Donald  Shaw  and  Dr.    Finally.  With  this  thought  in  mind.  Twitter.  radio  broadcasts.  television  broadcasts.  who  can  now  decide   what  they  want  to  read  about.  We  know  from  the  agenda-­‐setting   research  of  Dr.

 If  Twitter  follows  with  the  gatekeeping  function  of  traditional  media.         .  Policy  makers  and  opinion  experts   should  know  whether  the  agenda  set  forth  by  the  mass  media  permeates  social   media  sites.  then  Twitter  can  be  used  as  a  way  to  measure  public  opinion  on   the  topics.  their  opinions  are  likely  to  be  more  genuine   than  the  opinions  of  participants  who  complete  surveys  and  polls.Agenda-­‐Setting  in  Social  Media   researcher  hypothesizes  the  following:  The  trending  topics  on  the  popular  social   media  site.  will  be  representative  of  the  major  headlines  of  traditional  news   4   sources  and  therefore  will  have  a  strong  influence  on  public  opinion  and  public  policy.  it   can  be  assumed  that  the  site  has  an  influence  on  what  the  public  thinks  about.  If  people  tweet  their  opinion  on  matters   communicated  by  major  news  sources.  p.         The  research  in  this  study  is  important  because  of  the  strong  relationship   between  agenda-­‐setting  and  public  opinion.  time.  and  keep  participants  from  having  to  answer  dozens  of  questions   about  which  they  have  no  real  opinion.”  meaning  they  take  the   message  from  the  media.  Twitter.       Another  consideration  in  this  study:  If  Twitter  topics  are  indicative  of  the   major  news  stories.  1).  One  study  from  Carnegie  Melon  University  (2010)  has  found  that   “analyzing  data  from  Twitter  yields  the  same  results  as  conducting  a  public  opinion   poll”  (O’Dell.  and  share  it  with  a  broader  public.  intercept  it.  Public   opinion  specialists  and  researchers  should  know  the  role  that  social  media  plays  in   agenda-­‐setting  so  that  they  can  shape  their  messages  and  media  strategies   accordingly.  Using  the  site  to  conduct  public  opinion  research  would  save   money.  The   social  media  site  could  be  seen  as  an  “intervening  public.

 they  followed  the  1968  presidential  campaign  and  compared  voters’   perception  of  key  issues  to  the  content  published  and  broadcasted  by  the  mass   media.  People  still  form  their  own   opinions  about  issues  based  on  their  political  or  moral  beliefs.       The  researchers  were  careful  to  pretest  the  main  sources  of  news  for  the   sample  and  used  a  combination  of  content  analysis  and  interviews  to  conduct  their   research  methodology.  The  major   finding  in  this  research  is  that  although  the  media  tells  the  public  what  to  think   about.Agenda-­‐Setting  in  Social  Media   Literature  Review       Agenda-­setting       McCombs  and  Shaw  (1972)  sought  to  define  agenda-­‐setting  in  their  initial   study  by  quoting  Lang  and  Lang.  who  said:     “The  mass  media  force  attention  to  certain  issues.  N.  they  do  not  necessarily  tell  them  what  to  think.  but  it  is  stunningly   successful  in  telling  its  readers  what  to  think  about”  (p.  have  feelings   about”  (p.  They  are  constantly  presenting  objects  suggesting   what  individuals  in  the  mass  should  think  about.     McCombs  and  Shaw  released  their  initial  agenda-­‐setting  report  in  1972.  177).  The  researchers  used  a  random  sample  of  voters  in  Chapel  Hill.C.  177)   The  researchers  (1972)  go  on  to  quote.  know  about.  They  build  up  public   images  of  political  figure.       .  Cohen.  In   5   their  research.  who  said  “the  press  may  not  be   successful  much  of  the  time  in  telling  people  what  to  think.  McCombs  and  Shaw  found  a  major  correlation  between   voters’  perception  of  key  issues  and  the  mass  media’s  focus  on  issues.

 in  order  to  fully  understand  the   scope  of  the  research  question.  the  “second  level”  examines  the  relative  salience  of  attributes  of  issues”     (p.       Most  agenda-­‐setting  research  focuses  on  the  way  that  messages  flow  from   the  media  to  the  public.  2007.  countries.  143).  Second  level  agenda-­‐setting  is  often  compared  to  the  communication   theory  of  framing  because  both  deal  “with  how  issues  or  other  objects  (people.  p.   groups.    Brosius’  and  Weimann’s   argument  is  important  in  setting  up  the  idea  that  the  public  has  an  influence  on   determining  the  issues  in  policy  and  public  opinion.  organizations.  etc.  142).  but  as  Brosius  and  Weimann  explained  in  their  1996  article.    An  article  from  the  New  York  Times    (2010)  describes     .  562)  They  go  on  to  say  that  there  are   “several  encouraging  indications  of  the  significant  role  of  interpersonal   communication  in  the  agenda-­‐setting  process”  (p.       Twitter     In  addition  to  researching  agenda-­‐setting.  researchers  identified  two  levels  of   6   agenda-­‐setting.)  are  depicted  in  the  media  than  with  which   issues  or  objects  are  more  or  less  prominently  reported”  (Weaver.  Twitter.Agenda-­‐Setting  in  Social  Media     As  agenda-­‐setting  research  developed.  562).   “very  little  attention  has  been  paid  to  the  flow  from  the  public  to  the  media  and   within  the  public.  Weaver  (2007)  identifies  that  the  first  level  “is  focused  on  the   relative  salience  (usually  operationally  defined  as  perceived  importance)  of  issues   or  subjects.   The  research  being  conducted  in  this  study  will  focus  specifically  on  the  social   networking  site.  although  several  studies  provide  empirical  evidence  of  the   public’s  ability  to  affect  the  media  agenda  “  (p.  new  terms  in  social  media  must  be  fully  explained.

 In  Twitter’s  early  days.  rather  than  topics  that  have  been  popular  for  a  while  or  on  a  daily   basis.  and  governments  all  have  a  presence   on  Twitter.    Since  the  Iraqi   elections  of  2009.     Twitter  describes  its  trending  topics  by  explaining:     “Twitter's  Trending  Topics  algorithm  identifies  topics  that  are  immediately   popular.   celebrities.  and  unverified  claims  on  the  micro-­‐   .     It  is  important  to  note.  p.  stating  that  it  was  developed  by  a  “10-­‐person  startup   in  San  Francisco  called  Obvious”  (NYT.  As  one   blogger  from  TechCrunch  identified  in  a  2009  post:     “Critics  have  in  the  past  correctly  pointed  out  that  one  should  be  aware  of  the   fact  that  the  mob  isn’t  always  right.  businesses.  Users.  as  people  had  a   difficult  time  understanding  its  place  in  the  social  media  world  (NYT.  however.  “  (Twitter.  post  messages  to  their  followers  using  140   characters  or  less.  it  was  often  faced  ridicule.  The  site  functions  as  a  “micro-­‐blogging”   site.  1).  also  known  as  tweeters.  The  most  popular  and  frequently  tweeted  phrases  are  archived  so  that  users   can  see  what  conversations  and  information  are  being  shared  in  the  virtual  world.  p.  Twitter  has  gained  popularity  and  credibility.Agenda-­‐Setting  in  Social  Media   7   Twitter’s  history  and  purpose.  journalists.  1).       The  NYT  (2010)  article  explains:  “its  use  in  Iran  in  the  wake  of  the  disputed   presidential  election  of  June  2009  to  organize  protests  and  disseminate  information   in  the  face  of  a  news  media  crackdown  brought  it  new  respect”  (p.  nonprofits.  Politicians.  1).com).  to  help  people  discover  the  "most  breaking"  news  stories  from  across   the  world.  that  trending  topics  have  faced  criticism.       Twitter  uses  “trending  topics”  as  a  way  to  start  mob  conversations  among  its   users.

 it  must  be  noted  that  they  are  not  always  accurate  and  should  not  be   used  in  place  of  traditional  and  credible  media  outlets.  1).  Since  the  media  positions   themselves  as  the  gatekeepers  of  information.  policy  decisions  on  the  national  budget  makes   funds  available  to  agencies  and  organizations.     Although  trending  topics  are  a  good  way  to  measure  the  current  virtual  discussions   and  issues.       Public  policy  in  a  democratic  society  shapes  the  rights  and  opportunities   available  to  citizens.       Public  Opinion       The  question  remains  as  to  the  impact  that  Twitter  and  agenda-­‐setting  have   on  public  opinion.  the   stronger  the  relationship  is  likely  to  be”  (p.  but  rather  in  conjunction   with  them.  29).  For  example.  But  more  importantly.  they  have  an  impact  on  public   opinion  and  public  policy  because  of  the  relationship  between  salient  issues  and   public  policy.  it’s  often  too  late   as  most  people  will  have  probably  moved  on  unless  it  was  a  topic  they  have  a   continued  interest  in”  (Wauters.  like  the  public  education  system  or     .  p.  (2)  the  more  salient  an  issue  to  the  public.  “most  social  scientists  who  study   public  opinion  and  public  policy  in  democratic  countries  agree  that  (1)  public   opinion  influences  public  policy.  And  even  then.  why  does  their  contribution  to  public   opinion  matter?  As  Burstein    (2003)  identifies.Agenda-­‐Setting  in  Social  Media   sharing  service  –  often  from  a  single  user  or  even  a  single  message  –  can   quickly  lead  to  false  or  incomplete  stories  circulating  rapidly  and  viciously   8   until  the  dust  settles  and  the  truth  surfaces.

 instead  of  questioning  participants.  public  opinion.  and  public   policy.  The  BBC.  the  researcher  scanned  headlines  on  the  organizations’  websites   in  order  to  conduct  the  content  analysis.       The  researcher  analyzed  headlines  from  three  traditional  news  sources:  The   New  York  Times.  The  top  headlines  from  the  specified  time   were  then  compared  to  the  worldwide  trending  topics  on  Twitter.     Because  of  the  relationship  between  agenda-­‐setting.  the  media  has  a  responsibility  to  choose  the  most  important  issues  to   communicate  to  the  public  .  As  opposed  to  watching  or  listening  to  the   BBC  and  Al  Jazeera.  and  Al  Jazeera.  These  decisions  have  a  major  impact  on  the  lives  of  constituents.   9   the  proposed  method  should  be  similar  to  the  original  agenda-­‐setting  study  created   by  Shaw  and  McCombs.  In  this  case.  It  is  also     .       Method     In  order  to  judge  the  relationship  between  social  media  and  agenda-­‐setting.  it  should  become  clear  as  to  whether   traditional  news  media  is  setting  the  agenda  for  the  conversations  existing  in  a   social  media  environment.Agenda-­‐Setting  in  Social  Media   health  system.  The  researcher  operated  under  the   assumption  that  Bb  comparing  the  two.  headlines  and  trending   topics  were  captured  throughout  a  series  of  5  days  for  a  total  of  5  instances.    Top  headlines   were  determined  based  on  the  headlines  on  the  homepage  of  the  organizations’   websites.     Because  news  media  now  exists  in  a  24-­‐hour  cycle.  the   researcher  performed  a  content  analysis  of  current  worldwide  news  headlines  and  a   content  analysis  of  Twitter  trending  topics.

Agenda-­‐Setting  in  Social  Media   important  to  note  that  the  researcher  used  the  “global  edition”  of  The  New  York   10   Times.  There  is  also  less  privacy  on  Twitter.   Trending  topics  from  the  same  time  period  did  not  correlate  to  the  issues  featured   in  the  news  stories.   and  a  humanitarian  crisis  in  Libya  featured  prominently  across  the  5-­‐day  sample.       Results     Results  from  the  study  were  recorded  in  a  spreadsheet  (see  appendix)  that   listed  all  “front-­‐page”  headlines  and  trending  topics  from  a  given  time.  budget  and  financial  issues  in  the  U.       Twitter  was  chosen  as  the  comparative  social  media  site  due  to  its  easy  to   use  search  feature  and  the  openness  of  the  site.  2011  to  April  18.  Trending  topics  varied.  the   researcher  did  notice  a  great  amount  of  overlap  between  the  various  news  sources.   and  headline  at  the  particular  moment  at  which  the  measurement  was  taken.  the  information  is  organized  so  that  users  can  highlight  key  phrases  and   words  and  search  to  see  how  other  users  have  used  the  words  and  phrases  in  their   tweets.  Most   headlines  from  April  14.  fighting  in   Afghanistan.  time.       Despite  the  lack  of  overlap  between  trending  topics  and  headlines.  The  data  table  (see  appendix)  notes  the  date.  topics.     .  Protests  in  Syria.  with  “pop  culture”  current  events   emerging  as  the  dominant  theme.  2011  sought  to  shape  public  opinion   regarding  the  unrest  and  upheaval  in  the  Middle  East.  Most  users  have  public  or  open  profiles   to  encourage  more  followers  and  more  conversation.  Unlike  sites  like  Facebook  and   Wordpress.  elections  in  Africa.S.  and  Europe.  so  as  to  get  a  fair  representation  of  the  global  issues  perceived  by  The  NYT  at   the  time  of  measurement.

  These  topics  did  not  feature  prominently  on  Twitter  at  any  point.  the  researcher  predicted  that  trending  topics  on  Twitter  would  reflect   public  opinion  about  these  issues.       Discussion       From  the  results  included  in  this  report.  featuring  stories  on  the  unrest  in   the  Middle  East  and  the  financial  crisis  in  the  United  States  and  around  the  world.  BBC.  agreed  the  majority  of  the  time  on  what  the   agenda  should  be  for  worldwide  issues  and  public  opinion.  It  is  possible  that  had  the  content   sample  been  taken  during  an  election.  Unlike  the  initial  agenda-­‐setting  study.  it  is  clear  that  there  is  little  overlap   between  trending  topics  and  prominent  news  headlines.  when  public  opinion  issues  were  more   heavily  featured  in  the  national  discussion.   whether  purposely  or  inadvertently.  and  The   New  York  Times  often  overlapped  during  the  time  period  examined.  with  the  current  political  upheavals  in  the   Middle  East.  The  content  analysis  did  not  support  the   predicted  results.  The  headlines  from  Al  Jezeera.  and  the  Middle  East.  The  content  analysis  of   trending  topics  and  world  news  headlines  seldom  correlated  during  the  five-­‐day   period  that  was  measured.       Instead.Agenda-­‐Setting  in  Social  Media   11   The  news  sources  chosen  represent  different  parts  of  the  world:  the  United  States.  the  content  analysis  would  have   revealed  different  results.  The  media  from  each  of  these  regions.  It  might  be  more     .  the  current  study   did  not  take  place  during  a  Presidential  election.  the  Twitter  trending  topics  revealed  issues  that  were  more  related   to  popular  culture  than  public  opinion.  However.   the  United  Kingdom.  World  media   sources  collectively  set  the  agenda  to  the  public.

 There  have   been  specific  instances.  or  Perez   Hilton’s  blog  in  relation  to  Twitter  trending  topics.  Although  there  are   instances  of  social  media  being  used  to  positively  shape  the  public  opinion  agenda.  since  these  sources  are  more   likely  to  set  the  agenda  for  public  opinion  regarding  celebrity  news.     There  was  one  specific  instance  during  the  time  period  measured  where  it   seemed  as  if  traditional  media  missed  an  opportunity  to  communicate  a  message   that  Twitter  had  as  a  prominent  trending  topic.  This   idea  corresponds  to  Brosius’  and  Weimann’s  (1996)  finding  that  little  research  had   been  done  to  see  how  the  public  influences  the  agenda  of  the  media.       Despite  the  growing  interest  in  social  media  as  a  means  to  organize  political   demonstrations  and  communicate  supporting  messages.  Twitter  should  not  be  used   as  a  main  source  of  information  to  shape  public  opinion.  such  as  the  2011  Tunisian  and  Egyptian  political  upheavals   and  the  aftermath  of  the  2009  Iraqi  election.    This  is  an   example  of  social  media  being  more  indicative  of  the  issues  which  people  find   important  than  the  gatekeepers  of  traditional  media.  Traditional  news  organizations  reported  on   the  way  social  media  was  used  to  organize  demonstrations  and  share  information  in   an  environment  in  areas  of  media  censorship.Agenda-­‐Setting  in  Social  Media   12   relevant  to  study  popular-­‐culture  news  sources  such  as  US  Weekly.  2011  was  deemed  a  “Day  of   Silence”  for  gay  rights.  April  15.  it   seems  that  at  this  point.  Great  attention  was  given  to  Twitter     .  This  story  was  not  featured  in  any  of  the  traditional  news   sources  studied  but  was  a  trending  topic  for  the  entirety  of  the  day.  when  Twitter  and  social  media  has   been  the  first  source  to  break  the  news.  these  instances  are  the  exception  rather  than  the  rule.  People.

 Had  more   researchers  been  involved.  but  also  of  keywords  and  phrases   included  in  individual  tweets.  Twitter  offers  a  search  feature  to  allow  users  to  enter   in  keywords.  public   opinion  issues  should  continue  to  exist  more  as  a  function  of  traditional  media   rather  than  social  media.  more  so  than  world  events  and  news.  Twitter’s   ability  to  set  the  agenda  is  not  as  strong  as  traditional  news  media.     However.  And  traditional   news  media  should  understand  that  the  most  popular  conversations  existing  on   Twitter  are  not  relating  to  the  agenda  that  they  are  trying  set.  this  was  not  a  feasible  way  to  conduct  the  study.  because  only  one  researcher   conducted  the  study.  In  these  specific  instances.  collect  and   analyze.  the  researcher  should  have  counted  the  number  of  tweets   mentioning  keywords  from  the  headlines.Agenda-­‐Setting  in  Social  Media   13   as  an  innovative  way  to  promote  transparency.”  and  see  all  the  tweets  that  mention  these   words.  since  these  instances  are  sporadic  and  hard  to  predict.           Limitations  and  Suggestions  for  Future  Research     One  of  the  major  limitations  associated  with  this  study  was  the  lack  of   manpower  to  conduct  the  research.  the  researcher  had  hoped  to  conduct   a  content  analysis  not  only  of  trending  topics.       .  the  data  would  have  been  easier  to  break  up.  Twitter  is  still  being  used  mainly  as  a  place  to  follow   celebrity  gossip  and  popular-­‐culture.  for  example:  “Libya  protests.  Twitter   set  the  agenda  for  the  public  and  for  traditional  media.  Originally.  In  order  to  have  a  full  grasp  on  the  effect  of  traditional  media  on  public   opinion  on  Twitter.  Researchers  looking  to  delve  deeper  into  this  topic  should  consider  this   when  forming  their  research  agendas.  However.

 five-­‐instance  time  period  provided  only  a   glimpse  into  the  way  that  public  opinion  is  shaped  through  traditional  and  social   media.  In  reality.  During  the  five-­‐day  period   measured.       Another  limitation  was  the  three-­‐source  media  sample.  regional.  Measuring  agenda-­‐setting  and  social  media  on  a  global   level  may  have  been  too  broad  to  get  an  accurate  reading  of  how  agenda-­‐setting   works  in  social  media  environments.         A  final  limitation  to  the  research  conducted  in  this  study  is  the  lack  of   breaking  news  during  the  time  period  sampled.  the  sample  of  traditional  news  sources  could  be  expanded  to  include   a  wider  variety  of  publications.  studying  this  topic  and  including  a  content  analysis  that  examined   months  worth  of  tweets  and  headlines  would  have  been  more  representative  of  the   way  that  traditional  media  affects  the  conversations  on  social  media  sites.  The  lack  of     .  If  more  researchers   were  involved.  examining  headlines  and  tweets  for  a  longer  period  of  time  could  have   strengthened  the  sample.  national  and  global  levels.  there  were  no  breaking  news  stories.  crises.     Despite  the  numerous  limitations  associated  with  this  study.  the  basis  for  the   research  findings  is  strong.  Researchers  could  study  how  public  opinion  varies   on  Twitter  at  the  local.    A   stronger  relationship  may  have  existed  between  headlines  and  trending  topics  had  a   disaster  or  major  news  event  taken  place  in  the  time  period  examined  for  the  study.  It’s  possible  that  local   news  headlines  from  traditional  media  are  more  likely  to  overlap  with  local  trending   topics  for  a  particular  area.Agenda-­‐Setting  in  Social  Media     14   Also.  Results  may  have  played  out  differently  if  certain   circumstances  were  different  during  the  research  period.  or  events  that  took  place.  The  five-­‐day.  However.  the  time   measured  in  the  study  was  indicative  of  a  “normal”  news  cycle.

 References  to  the   mass  media’s  agenda  do  exist  on  Twitter.  Twitter  cannot  be   expected  to  participate  in  agenda-­‐setting  as  an  intervening  public.  other  research  has  been  conducted  to  find  a  way  to  use  the  site   to  measure  public  opinion.Agenda-­‐Setting  in  Social  Media   correlation  between  trending  topics  and  headlines  shows  that  social  media.  plays  a  minimal  role  in  agenda-­‐setting.   specifically  Twitter.                     .  but  for  now.  it  does  not  discount  the  ability  to  use  the   site  as  an  important  player  in  policy  and  opinion  conversations.  Just  because  the  major  topics  on  Twitter  don’t   correspond  to  the  major  news  headlines.  but  could  be  a  place  to  measure  what  it  is  we  are   thinking.  Public  policy   15   makers  and  public  opinion  researchers  should  be  cautious  when  using  social  media   as  a  primary  outlet  for  shaping  public  opinion  and  policy.       Conclusions     Although  this  research  failed  to  find  a  relationship  between  agenda-­‐setting   and  Twitter  topics.  researchers  and  policy   makers  should  understand  that  Twitter  is  not  a  platform  to  judge  what  the  mass   media  is  telling  us  to  think  about.

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