News and Social Media matters 15 July 2023-

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World Press Freedom Day 2023
2023 World Press Freedom Index
Pew Research: State of the News Media
Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism
NiemanLab
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Handy reference
Interactive Media Bias Chart®
Big Tech and Journalism – Building a Sustainable Future in the Global South
Disinformation, Dictators & Democracy:
A discussion with Maria Ressa and Ron Deibert

Tucker Carlson joins long line of ‘useful idiot’ journalists helping tyrants
The notorious Walter Duranty of the New York Times and Nazi broadcaster Lord Haw-Haw offer cautionary tales.
(Politico Eu) Tucker Carlson is far from being the first Western journalist to have aligned himself with the enemy. There’s a long tradition of the likes of Hitler and Stalin finding pliable Brits and Americans to do their propaganda for them.
Russian President Vladimir Putin can be confident he won’t be facing any zingers in his interview with Carlson, due to be broadcast on Thursday night in the U.S. It will probably be more an exercise in sycophancy akin to the softball encounter between Carlson and Donald Trump last August. Indeed, it could be an attempt to map out the contours of another Trump-Putin love-in.
After all, Carlson nailed his colors to Putin’s mast long ago. He’s argued Washington should take Russia’s side in its war on Ukraine and dubbed Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy a “dangerous authoritarian” — not a description, apparently, he thinks applicable to the Russian leader. He has also always been in tune with Putin’s calls for “traditional values” — which in Russia tends to mean the abuse of LGBTQ+ rights.
Tucker Carlson interview with Putin to test EU law regulating tech companies
Law obliges social media platforms to remove illegal content – with fears that interview will give Russian leader propaganda coup
The EU’s far-reaching new laws to regulate tech companies including X and Facebook will face their first big test on Thursday night when former Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s interview with Vladimir Putin is aired in the US.
A spokesperson for the European Commission said it anticipated that the interview would provide a platform for Putin’s “twisted desire to reinstate” the Russian empire. …
The interview has raised concerns within the EU that it will be used as part of Putin’s wider “information war”, with the likelihood that clips would spread across social media, particularly on Elon Musk’s X platform, providing the Russian leader with a propaganda coup.

12 January
Substack Was a Ticking Time Bomb
The platform seeded its own content-moderation crisis.
By Jacob Stern
(The Atlantic) Substack now finds itself in the middle of a crisis. In late November, an investigation in The Atlantic turned up “scores of white-supremacist, neo-Confederate, and explicitly Nazi newsletters on Substack.” Because the site takes a cut of subscription revenue, this meant that Substack was making money off extremists. In response, nearly 250 Substack writers demanded in an open letter that the site explain why it was “platforming and monetizing Nazis.” Meanwhile, an opposing group of nearly 100 writers published its own open letter rejecting calls for greater moderation. Last month, a Substack co-founder, Hamish McKenzie, responded with a blog post articulating the company’s position: “We don’t think that censorship (including through demonetizing publications) makes the problem go away—in fact, it makes it worse.”
After several of the site’s highest-profile writers either left or threatened to leave, Substack reversed course earlier this week. Several Nazi publications would be shut down, the company said, but going forward, it would proactively remove only “credible threats of physical harm.” This resolution has not been received warmly. Broderick’s departure was followed by another on Thursday evening: The prominent Substack writer Casey Newton announced that he, too, would soon leave the service.

2023

14 December
Masha Gessen won a ‘political thought’ prize. Then they wrote on Gaza.
A Q&A with the journalist, after two sponsors of the Hannah Arendt Prize withdrew their support
(WaPo) …two sponsors of the event had pulled out, citing Gessen’s Dec. 9 New Yorker essay titled “In the shadow of the Holocaust,” a reflection from Berlin on what’s happened since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. Gessen criticizes Germany’s policies relating to Israel, examines the country’s regulation of Holocaust remembrance, and compares the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza to that of Jews in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe.
“Presumably, the more fitting term ‘ghetto’ would have drawn fire for comparing the predicament of besieged Gazans to that of ghettoized Jews,” Gessen wrote. “It also would have given us the language to describe what is happening in Gaza now. The ghetto is being liquidated.”

28 November (w/ updates 11 January 2024)
Substack Has a Nazi Problem
The newsletter platform’s lax content moderation creates an opening for white nationalists eager to get their message out.
By Jonathan M. Katz
(The Atlantic) The newsletter-hosting site Substack advertises itself as the last, best hope for civility on the internet—and aspires to a bigger role in politics in 2024. But just beneath the surface, the platform has become a home and propagator of white supremacy and anti-Semitism. Substack has not only been hosting writers who post overtly Nazi rhetoric on the platform; it profits from many of them.

18 November
Elon Musk to file ‘thermonuclear lawsuit’ as advertisers desert X
Social media firm boss says he will sue media watchdog that said ads were being placed alongside antisemitic content
Elon Musk has said he will be filing a “thermonuclear lawsuit” against Media Matters and others, after major US companies paused their adverts on his social media site over concerns about antisemitism.
The media watchdog Media Matters said earlier this week that it found corporate advertisements by IBM, Apple, Oracle and Comcast’s Xfinity were being placed alongside antisemitic content, including that praising Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
It led to a number of big names in technology and media announcing they would be withdrawing their advertising. It also included Warner Brothers, Paramount and Disney.

9 November
Israel berates New York Times, CNN, Reuters, AP over Hamas attack photographers
Israel accuses foreign media of having forewarning of Hamas’ attacks through freelance photographers in Gaza.
(Politico Eu) Israel on Thursday slammed four international media outlets — the New York Times, CNN, the Associated Press and Reuters — over the conduct of four photojournalists in Gaza, saying they had advance knowledge of the attack by Hamas militants on October 7 that killed more than 1,400 people.
The news services strongly rejected the Israeli government’s accusation they had any forewarning of the impending murderous assault, with the New York Times saying the “outrageous” charges endangered journalists in both Israel and Gaza.

Hundreds of journalists sign letter protesting coverage of Israel
The letter exposes divisions and frustrations within U.S. newsrooms about how they are covering the Gaza conflict.
By Laura Wagner and Will Sommer
(WaPo) More than 750 journalists from dozens of news organizations have signed an open letter published Thursday condemning Israel’s killing of reporters in Gaza and criticizing Western media’s coverage of the war.
The letter — which said newsrooms are “accountable for dehumanizing rhetoric that has served to justify ethnic cleansing of Palestinians” — is the latest in a string of impassioned collective statements staking out ground in the stateside reaction to the Israel-Gaza war.
But while other writers, artists, scholars and academics have criticized media coverage of the conflict, the latest letter — which includes signatories from Reuters, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe and The Washington Post — is notable for exposing divisions and frustrations within newsrooms.
… Steve Coll, a former managing editor at The Post and former dean of the Columbia journalism school, said that journalists who sign open letters could face backlash from management, especially if those newsrooms have rules against activism.
He noted a recent generational split in some newsrooms, where younger employees feel empowered to speak out on political issues — putting them in conflict sometimes with the mores of older journalists, who prefer to stay quiet. “It’s a problem that has to be resolved one way or another,” he said.

6 November
‘Are you sitting down?’ The windfall that transformed NPR 20 years ago.
(WaPo) In a stroke, the late philanthropist transformed the fortunes of NPR, a nonprofit that had struggled since its founding to keep its transmitters humming. The contribution — which ultimately hit more than $230 million once the final amount was transferred several months later — was by far the largest in public broadcasting history and, at the time, the largest monetary gift to any American cultural institution. …while NPR still dutifully pays tribute to Kroc’s generosity — via those regular announcements acknowledging “the estate of Joan B. Kroc” — it may have dissuaded other donors. Some listeners get the idea that Kroc’s estate “is still writing checks,” said Lisa Napoli, the author of “Ray & Joan,” a 2016 biography of the Krocs, as well a book about the history of NPR.

This is the beginning of the end for The San Diego Union-Tribune recounts the by now all-too-familiar story Under new owner Alden Global Capital, there’s no plan for the future. There’s just revenue extraction for as long as a generation of older newspaper subscribers live to keep paying their bills
(Nieman Lab) “The death of a city’s major journalism outfit isn’t a tragedy only if you’re one of those blessed souls who holds some deep reverence for the fourth estate. If you care about education, your schools just got less accountable and more opaque. If you care about local parks and beaches, the corruption of your local officials just got easier. If you care about democracy, your neighbors just became less likely to vote.
“If you care about your neighbors, you’re about to know less about them, and have less in common with them.”

3 November
The Great Social Media–News Collapse
Big Tech’s relationship with journalism is much more complicated than it appears.

By Charlie Warzel
After the 2016 election, news became a bug rather than a feature, a burdensome responsibility of truth arbitration that no executive particularly wanted to deal with. Slowly, and then not so slowly, companies divested from news. Facebook reduced its visibility in users’ feeds. Both Meta and Google restricted the distribution of news content in Canada. Meta’s head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, noted that its newest social network, Threads, wouldn’t go out of its way to amplify news content. Elon Musk destroyed Twitter, apparently as part of a reactionary political project against the press, and made a number of decisions that resulted in its replacement, X, being flooded with garbage. As The New York Times declared recently, “The major online platforms are breaking up with news.”
… Platforms, especially Facebook, have encouraged news organizations to redefine their publishing strategies in the past, including through disastrous pivots to video, only to change directions with an algorithm update or the falsification of key metrics. They’ve also allowed their platforms to be used for dangerous propaganda that crowds out legitimate information. But there is also a less convenient and perhaps more existential side to tech’s divestiture of news. It’s not just the platforms: Readers are breaking up with traditional news, too.
24 October
Americans are following the news less closely than they used to
(Pew Research) Americans are following the news less closely than they were a few years ago, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis. This comes amid changes in news consumption habits, declining trust in the media and high levels of news fatigue.
Older adults are more likely to say they follow the news all or most of the time, while younger adults are less likely. However, Americans in all age groups have become less likely to say they follow the news all or most of the time since 2016.
The recent decline in Americans’ attention to the news has occurred across demographic lines, including education, gender, race, ethnicity and political party affiliation. But the decline is still bigger among some groups than others.
For example, the decrease has been particularly steep among Republicans, who also have become much less likely to trust information from national news organizations in recent years. (Partisan divides in media trust widen, driven by a decline among Republicans)

17-23 October
How the Media Got the Hospital Explosion Wrong
Amplifying dubious Hamas claims caused real damage. No wonder public trust in news reporting is so low.
By Yascha Mounk
(The Atlantic) Last Tuesday, some of the world’s most prominent news organizations spread word about a terrible tragedy unfolding in the Gaza Strip. Images of a blast at a hospital were beginning to circulate on social media. The Palestinian health authorities claimed that Israel was responsible for the death of some 500 civilians. Because the details were extremely murky, it was impossible to tell who had caused the explosion or how many people had died. And yet some of the most reputable names in news media sent push alerts that broadcast Hamas’s claims far and wide.
“Hundreds feared dead or injured in Israeli air strike on hospital in Gaza, Palestinian officials say,” wrote the BBC. “At least 500 people were killed by an Israeli airstrike at a Gaza hospital, the Palestinian Health Ministry said,” wrote The New York Times.
Along with others, these news outlets ascribed these details to Palestinian authorities, thereby doing the minimum to ensure that their readers would understand where the claims originated. But both push alerts would have led reasonable readers to conclude that these statements must basically be true.
Finally, this morning, The New York Times acknowledged the extent of its error in an editors’ note Gaza Hospital Coverage
… CNN and other news outlets have not yet followed suit in apologizing for their own, very similar, missteps; a BBC statement on the topic applied only to a correspondent’s words, and not its push alerts or the initial reporting on its website.
… Journalists and media executives understandably tend to apportion blame for their failings elsewhere. If people no longer trust quality outlets, the fault must lie with the “misinformation” they encounter on social media. But such an easy allocation of responsibility won’t work when, marching in unison, major news organizations seem to have fouled up in as blatant a way as they have over this past week.

Lessons from Gaza: Think before you Tweet
Matthew Kendrick
(GZERO media) Hours before US President Joe Biden set off for his trip to Israel late Tuesday, social media erupted with videos purporting to show an aerial strike on the Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City. The virtual battlelines formed immediately, with Hamas saying Israel had deliberately bombed the facility and killed 500 people.
Major media outlets published stories repeating the claims before Israel came out with its own version of events: A misfired terrorist rocket hit the hospital. Then came the rush to adjust those headlines and news alerts, but events had already moved well beyond their control.
Arab leaders canceled meetings with Biden, as people spilled into the streets of Beirut, Amman, Cairo, and other Middle Eastern cities following calls for a “day of rage.” Simultaneously, everyone on Twitter suddenly discovered newfound expertise on just how a guided bomb sounds as it falls or whether unburned rocket fuel could create such an explosion.
In the cold light of Wednesday morning, the story looked much different: Photographs of the blast site show a small shallow crater and around a dozen burned-out cars in the hospital parking lot. There’s only light visible damage to the hospital building itself. Gazan authorities still claim hundreds were killed, as many people were sheltering on the hospital campus.
Trouble is, the damage is done. The disinformation ruined Biden’s trip, upended the summit with Arab leaders that could have broken the humanitarian aid impasse, and deepened the divide over the war, both in and beyond the Holy Land. In another world, a successful summit might have saved thousands of lives by shortening the conflict or allowing food, fuel, medicine, and freshwater into Gaza. Instead, hearts are further hardened, and Israel is preparing a ground invasion.
How Social Media Abdicated Responsibility for the News
The Israel-Hamas war has displayed with fresh urgency the perils of relying on our feeds for updates about events unfolding in real time.
By Kyle Chayka
(New Yorker) …when Russia invaded Ukraine, the horror of war filtered out into the world through user-generated videos on TikTok. … Both the volume and the intimacy of the footage seemed unprecedented; the conflict was quickly dubbed the “first TikTok war.” Ten days ago, the eruption of violence between Hamas and Israel became the second major war of that new era of social media. But social media has changed to a surprising degree in the intervening year and a half. Across the major platforms, our feeds are less reliable sources of authentic crowdsourced news than they ever were—which wasn’t much to begin with—because of decisions made by the platforms themselves.
X, formerly known as Twitter, has, under the ownership of Elon Musk, dismantled its content-moderation staff, throttled the reach of news publications, and allowed any user to buy blue-check verification, turning what was once considered a badge of trustworthiness on the platform into a signal of support for Musk’s regime. Meta’s Facebook has minimized the number of news articles appearing in users’ feeds, following years of controversy over the company’s role in spreading misinformation. And TikTok, under increased scrutiny in the United States for its parent company’s relationship with the Chinese government, is distancing itself from news content. …

21-22 October
‘Let that sink in!’ The 13 tweets that tell the story of Elon Musk’s turbulent first year at Twitter (or X)
The billionaire’s posts began with a laboured gag and ended with a dangerous intervention into the reporting of the conflict in Gaza
Tim Adams
(The Guardian) A year ago this week, when he completed the purchase of Twitter for $44bn, Elon Musk tweeted “the bird is freed”. Billionaires like nothing more than casting themselves as popular liberators, but the acquisition fitted the pattern of his ever-expanding empire.
Musk has colonised areas of the economy from which public funding and regulation have been in retreat. His carmaker, Tesla, is shaping the future of transport; SpaceX, meanwhile, has in many ways replaced Nasa on the final frontier (so far this year it has launched 75 spacecraft).
Musk told himself and the world that he had acquired Twitter (now renamed X) to create “a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner”. The subtext of that naive homily was: what’s the point in being the one of richest men in the world if you can’t corner the market in free speech?

14-19 October
Truce sought in link-tax battle
A group representing Canadian news organizations has called on the federal government to make changes as requested by Google to a new law requiring the tech giant to make payments to news outlets.
Ottawa should accommodate Google’s C-18 concerns, urges group representing Canada’s major publishers
Bill Curry, Deputy Ottawa Bureau Chief, Globe and Mail
News Media Canada, the organization representing some of the country’s largest news organizations, is urging the federal government to accommodate Google’s specific concerns regarding Bill C-18, the Online News Act.
Google and Facebook have strongly opposed the bill, describing it as unworkable. Facebook has already removed Canadian news from its platform to avoid falling under the terms of the legislation.
Google responded to the government’s draft regulations Friday, raising a host of concerns. The company said it would follow through on plans to pull Canadian news entirely unless the final version of the regulations address its concerns. The company has also expressed skepticism that such issues can even be addressed through regulation. It has called on the government to bring in legislative amendments.
News Media Canada, which represents publishers such as The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, Postmedia and La Presse, has been urging all sides to reach an agreement through regulations. It said in a statement to The Globe that the government should address Google’s concerns through the final version of its regulations.
“Google’s submission is a welcome, clear, constructive, good faith articulation of legitimate concerns. We are in agreement with many of the issues they have raised,” said Paul Deegan, News Media Canada’s president and chief executive officer.
“We are aligned that there should be a firm ceiling, rather than a floor on financial liability. We also agree that eligible publishers must have an online presence, non-monetary measures such as training and product can be part of the remuneration, and parties need incentives to enter into negotiation, rather than holding out. We are ready to sit down and work through the detail of these issues before the regulations are finalized. Google plays an essential role in helping Canadians find trusted news sources, and we are confident there is a path forward for the company and publishers to continue what has been a mutually beneficial relationship for many years to come.”
The statement represents a significant olive branch from large publishers, who have generally been supportive of the government’s original proposals.

13 October
How the conspiracy-fueled Epoch Times went mainstream and made millions
The conservative news outlet has amassed a fortune, growing its revenue by 685% in two years, according to tax documents.
(NBC) In the runup to the 2020 election, a small news organization saw an opportunity.
The Epoch Times directed millions of dollars in advertising toward supporting President Donald Trump’s campaign and published dozens of articles parroting his lies about the election — resulting in huge growth to its audience and its coffers.
The strategy garnered criticism from fact-checking groups and got it banned from advertising on Facebook, but it ultimately paid off — putting the once-fringe newspaper on a path that perhaps only its leader, who claims to have supernatural powers, could have foreseen.
Today, The Epoch Times is one of the country’s most successful and influential conservative news organizations. It’s powered by Falun Gong, a religious group persecuted in China, which launched The Epoch Times as a free propaganda newsletter more than two decades ago to oppose the Chinese Communist Party.

19 September
AI and journalism: What’s next?
Expert David Caswell on why generative AI may transform the news ecosystem and how journalists and news companies should adapt
(Reuters Institute) Innovation in journalism is back. Following a peak of activity in the mid 2010s, the idea of fundamentally reinventing how news might be produced and consumed had gradually become less fashionable, giving way to incrementalism, shallow rhetoric and in some cases even unapologetic ‘innovation exhaustion.’ No longer. The public release of ChatGPT in late November of 2022 demonstrated capabilities with such obvious and profound potential impact for journalism that AI-driven innovation is now the urgent focus of the senior leadership teams in almost every newsroom. The entire news industry is asking itself ‘what’s next’?
For many people in journalism the first half of 2023 was a time for asking questions and learning the basics of AI. What can ChatGPT actually do? What is generative AI? What is a language model? What is a ‘prompt’? How dependable are these tools? What kind of skills are required to use them? How fast is this technology improving? What are the risks? How much of all this is just hype?

5 September
How to wage war on conspiracy theories
(Politico Nightly) Some researchers run experiments on rats. Adam Berinsky, the director of the MIT Political Experiments Research Lab, runs them on humans who believe rumors — or what we now call disinformation.
Berinsky doesn’t use electrodes or mazes — just surveys and polls. And his research has led to conclusions that could inform the 2024 race and the sorts of voters that politicians should be tailoring their messaging towards. Namely, Berinsky has found that false beliefs can be successfully debunked — up to a point — and that we should be paying much more attention to a group of people often overlooked by politicians and pollsters: people who answer that they’re “not sure” about a topic in surveys.
In his new book, “Political Rumors: Why We Accept Misinformation and How to Fight It,” he examines attitudes toward both politics and health, both of which are undermined by distrust and misinformation in ways that cause harm to both individuals and society.
Berinsky, who is also an MIT professor of political science, told Nightly in a recent conversation that a lot of misinformation comes not from random people tweeting but from leaders — the political elite. And in our hyperpartisan era, people come to understand that the candidate or politician they back has been lying – but stay loyal to them anyway.

10 August
Why Twitter Changed to X (YouTube + transcript)
Twitter is one of the most popular apps on iOS, but it recently dropped its iconic bird branding for something less recognizable; an X. So why did this happen?
Well, it starts with Elon Musk. The letter X fascinated him since 1999. When he purchased the x.com domain for an online payment business.

4 August
The AI Regulation Paradox
Regulating artificial intelligence to protect U.S. democracy could end up jeopardizing democracy abroad.
By Bhaskar Chakravorti, the dean of global business at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
(Foreign Policy) …regulating AI to protect U.S. democracy could actually end up jeopardizing democracy abroad. Here is why: The louder the voices of lawmakers from commercially and politically important markets such as the United States and the European Union—where lawmakers and regulators have been even more vigorous in their efforts to rein in technology-powered disinformation—the more likely it is that disinformation will proliferate in the rest of the world. The aggregate effect amounts to a paradox of regulating disinformation: The more you regulate it in the West, the worse it gets globally.
There are many factors feeding the paradox. The primary carriers of disinformation, the major social media platforms, have steadily dismantled their disinformation-catching staff. This means that severely depleted teams must tend to the squeakiest of wheels—that is, lawmakers and regulators in the United States and the EU. The result is that there aren’t enough resources left to monitor content in the rest of the world. On top of this, the major social media platforms are distracted by other matters. And all of this coincides with 2024, a year packed with elections in places far from the United States.

1 August
How Will Artificial Intelligence Change the News Business? Here are three theories of the case.
(New York) In early July, the Associated Press made a deal with OpenAI, maker of ChatGPT, to license “part of AP’s text archive” and get access to “OpenAI’s technology and product expertise.” A few days later, OpenAI announced a $5 million grant, accompanied by $5 million in software use “credits,” to the American Journalism Project, an organization that supports nonprofit newsrooms. Meanwhile, Google has reportedly been presenting major news organizations, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, with a new software “personal assistant” for journalists, code-named Genesis, which promises to “take in information — details of current events, for example — and generate news content,” with a pitch described by some in attendance as unsettling. A number of news organizations, including G/O media, which owns Gizmodo, Jezebel, and The Onion, are experimenting with blog-style content generated from scratch, and plenty of others, with varying degrees of transparency, have started to dabble.

26-27 July
Big Tech and News Media: Principles for Fair Compensation
(McGill Centre for Media, Technology and Democracy) The Big Tech and Journalism – Building a Sustainable Future for the Global South conference was held from 13-14 July 2023 at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) in Johannesburg, and was hosted by the GIBS Media Leadership Think Tank. The conference brought together a global network of journalists, news publishers, media organizations, academics, activists, lawyers and economists from 24 countries. Together, they jointly proposed the following principles for fair compensation.
24 July
Big Tech and Journalism – Principles for Fair Compensation
The Principles are intended to be universal, serving as a framework for any country seeking to address media sustainability through competition or regulatory approaches, while enabling adaptation to the unique context. It is hoped that the Principles will represent an important step forward in addressing news media sustainability in the tumultuous era of Big Tech. …
News publishers declare global principles for bargaining with Big Tech
Journalists and scholars gathered for two days in South Africa to hammer out details of fair compensation from Big Tech
(Poynter) Despite pressure from Google and Meta, global momentum is growing for codes similar to one passed in Australia that push the tech platforms to pay for the news they use.
A recent two-day meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, brought together journalists and scholars from around the world to discuss how to implement such codes and agree on principles that can help with the drafting of the laws. More than 50 organizations have signed on to the principles so far.
In the spring of 2021, Australia passed “world-first” legislation aimed at the power imbalance between large tech companies and news publishers. Since then some $140 million USD has been paid out to Australian publishers. Global interest in such laws is building. Canada passed its C-18 law in June and the United Kingdom is likely to have new competition rules in place by the end of 2023. Indonesia’s president is expected to issue a decree in the coming days and ministers have already been meeting in July to discuss the wording, according to members of Indonesian journalism organizations speaking at the conference.

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