Posts tagged ‘Facebook’

Keeping It Quiet

Data Security

Last week, The Wall Street Journal published a disturbing article on the kind of access that many app developers are able to gain to Gmail accounts, which now number over one billion.  Writing for the Journal, Douglas MacMillan opens his nearly 2,300-word article:

Google said a year ago it would stop its computers from scanning the inboxes of Gmail users for information to personalize advertisements, saying it wanted users to “remain confident that Google will keep privacy and security paramount.”

But the internet giant continues to let hundreds of outside software developers scan the inboxes of millions of Gmail users who signed up for email-based services offering shopping price comparisons, automated travel-itinerary planners or other tools.  Google does little to police those developers, who train their computers – and, in some cases, employees – to read their users’ emails, a Wall Street Journal examination has found.

One of those companies is Return Path Inc., which collects data for marketers by scanning the inboxes of more than two million people who have signed up for one of the free apps in Return Path’s partner network using a Gmail, Microsoft Corp. or Yahoo email address.  Computers normally do the scanning, analyzing about 100 million emails a day.  At one point about two years ago, Return Path employees read about 8,000 unredacted emails to help train the company’s software, people familiar with the episode say …

Letting employees read user emails has become “common practice” for companies that collect this type of data, says Thede Loder, the former chief technology officer at eDataSource Inc., a rival to Return Path.  He says engineers at eDataSource occasionally reviewed emails when building and improving software algorithms.

“Some people might consider that to be a dirty secret,” says Mr. Loder.  “It’s kind of reality.”

This report serves as yet another reminder that the data and conversations one sends and stores on email might be personal, but they are probably not private.  Understanding you is too critical to too many companies who want to market to you.  So these companies, when you download one of their apps, ask you to check a box at the bottom of some long end-user agreement that almost no one reads that gives them permission to sneak-a-peak into your inbox.

This story can serve as a great reminder of the importance – and, really, the sanctity – of keeping a confidence.  Some information, no matter what a legal end-user agreement may allow, is not best morally bought, sold, and shared.  As Proverbs 11:13 pithily puts it: “A gossip goes around revealing a secret, but a trustworthy person keeps a confidence.”

Confidences in our culture are far too easily betrayed.  From a person’s presumably private information being shared and sold by large tech companies under a cloud of legalese to the steady drip of politically laced leaks meant to damage people in public positions to the titillating headlines about this or that celebrity splashed across the front pages of our tabloids to the more modest office gossip that happens around water coolers across America, not only are we bad at keeping confidences, we often delight in breaking confidences if we think doing so will gain us friends and get us power. Unlike Christ, who sacrificed Himself for the sake of others, we, with giddily gossipy tongues, sacrifice others for the sake of ourselves.

Certainly, confidences can never be turned into excuses for cover-ups of sin.  Morally illicit behavior, when it comes to one’s attention, needs to be confronted frankly, even if also compassionately, by someone in a position of authority to do so, which means that sometimes, something that comes to your attention needs to be shared with someone who is equipped to address it.  But it can still be shared in strict confidence for a specific purpose – not to get the word out, but to privately and poignantly call someone to repentance.

At its heart, keeping a confidence is simply a vow to treat people’s tender spots tenderly.  We all have points of pain and shame in our lives.  To be able to share those with a person we can trust is often necessary for healing.  In a culture that delights in the damaging and devastating weaponry of gossip, may we practice the restorative and healing power of keeping a confidence.  As my mother used to say: “Sometimes, you’ve just got to zip your lips.”

This is most certainly true.

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July 9, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Mr. Zuckerberg Goes To Washington

Mark Zuckerberg

Credit: NBC News

Last week, Mark Zuckerberg found himself in the hot seat as he faced Congress, who, as The New York Times reports, turned their interview with him into:

…something of a pointed gripe session, with both Democratic and Republican senators attacking Facebook for failing to protect users’ data and stop Russian election interference, and raising questions about whether Facebook should be more heavily regulated.

Along with broad calls for heavier regulations for the sake of people’s privacy came concerns that Facebook might also regulate people’s posts, especially in light of the many contested “fake news” posts that circulated during the 2016 presidential election on social media.  Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska highlighted this concern, telling Mr. Zuckerberg:

Facebook may decide it needs to police a whole bunch of speech that I think America may be better off not having policed by one company that has a really big and powerful platform … Adults need to engage in vigorous debates.

At issue for Senator Sasse is whether or not a corporation like Facebook will be able to responsibly regulate all kinds of posts that, regardless of their intellectual and logical quality, are politically, though not necessarily corporately, protected under the First Amendment.  Senator Sasse is concerned that Facebook may simply begin regulating speech with which Facebook management does not agree.  The senator offered the example the abortion debate as a potential flashpoint if social media speech regulations were to be instituted:

There are some really passionately held views about the abortion issue on this panel today. Can you imagine a world where you might decide that pro-lifers are prohibited from speaking about their abortion view on your platform?

Mr. Zuckerberg responded that he “certainly would not want that to be the case.”

Corporate regulation of speech is indeed a concern, for even the best regulatory intentions often come with unintended – and sometimes awful – consequences.  At the same time, for Christians, a devotion to free speech must never become an excuse for reckless speech, for reckless speech can be dangerously damaging.  As Jesus’ brother, James, reminds us:

The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.  (James 3:5-6)

Thus, with this in mind, it is worth it to reflect for a moment on how we exercise our tongues – on social media, and in all circumstances.  In our speech – and in our posts – Scripture calls us to two things.

First, we must love the truth. 

When the apostle Paul writes to a pastor named Timothy, he exhorts him:

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus.  Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.  (2 Timothy 1:13-14)

The Greek verb that Paul uses for “guard” is philasso, from which we get the English word “philosophy.”  “Philosophy” is a word that, etymologically, translates as “love of truth.”  As Christians, we are called to love the truth.  We do this by expecting the truth from ourselves, by defending the truth when we see lies, and by seeking the truth so we are not duped by deceit.  In the sometimes wild world of social media, do we tell the truth about ourselves, or do we paint an intentionally deceptive portrait of ourselves with carefully curated posts?  Do we defend the truth when we see others being defamed, or do we pile on because we find certain insults humorous?  Do we seek the truth before we post, or do we pass on what we read indiscriminately because it fits our preconceived biases?  As people who follow the One who calls Himself “the truth,” we must love the truth.

Second, we must speak with grace.

Not only is what we say important, how we say it is important as well.  The apostle Paul explains it like this: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6).  There are times when communicating the truth can be difficult.  But even in these times, we must be careful to apply the truth as a scalpel and not swing it as a club.  The truth is best used when it cuts for the sake of healing instead of when it bludgeons for the thrill of winning.  This is what it means to speak the truth with grace.  Paul is clear that he wants the truth proclaimed “clearly” (Colossians 4:4), but part of being clear is being careful.  When anger, hyperbole, and self-righteousness become hallmarks of “telling it like it is,” we can be sure that we are no longer actually “telling it like it is.”  Instead, we are obfuscating the truth under a layer of vitriol and rash rants.

Facebook has a lot to answer for as investigations into its handling of people’s privacy continue.  It appears as though the company may not have been completely forthcoming in how it operates.  And their deceit in this regard is getting them into trouble.  Let’s make sure we don’t fall into the same trap.  Let’s be people of the truth – on social media and everywhere.

April 16, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Forgiveness That Kills Death

Robert Godwin

When Mark Zuckerberg first unveiled Facebook Live, he touted it as a service that allowed people to express themselves in “raw” and “visceral” ways:

Because it’s live, there is no way it can be curated. And because of that it frees people up to be themselves. It’s live; it can’t possibly be perfectly planned out ahead of time. Somewhat counterintuitively, it’s a great medium for sharing raw and visceral content.

This is true.  But I’m not sure broadcasting a murder on social media is what Mr. Zuckerberg had in mind.  But on Easter Sunday, last weekend, this is exactly what happened.

74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr. was walking home from an Easter meal with his family when he was stopped by Steve Stephens.  Before Mr. Godwin knew what was happening, he was dead and Stephens was on the run.  The following day, Stephens was spotted in Pennsylvania at a McDonald’s drive-thru.  When police took pursuit, Stephens took his own life.

This is a shocking story.  But it took an even more shocking turn when Mr. Godwin’s family was interviewed by CNN’s Anderson Cooper.  The anchor asked the family what they learned from their father.  They answered:

The thing that I would take away the most from my father is he taught us about God, how to fear God, how to love God, and how to forgive.  And each one of us forgives the killer, murderer.

Clearly shocked, Mr. Cooper asked, “You do?”  To which the family responded:

We want to wrap our arms around him…And I promise you I could not do that if I didn’t know God, if I didn’t know Him as my God and my Savior…It’s just what our parents taught us. It wasn’t that they just taught it, they didn’t just talk it, they lived it. People would do things to us and we would say, “Dad, are you really going to forgive them, really?” and he would say, “Yes, we have to.” My dad would be really proud of us, and he would want this from us.

Mr. Cooper, amazed at this family’s willingness to forgive a man who murdered their father in cold blood, wrapped up the segment by saying:

You talked about how your friends would say they wish they were Godwins.  I know a lot of people watching tonight – and certainly I speak for myself – I wish I was a Godwin right now because you all represent your dad very well.

Jesus famously said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).  Anyone who has ever had to face down an enemy has probably found this to be a nice sentiment in theory, but painfully difficult to practice.  And yet, Jesus commanded us to live this way because He knew it was the only way to confront sin and destroy it.  When someone sins against us and we retaliate, we have only traded injury for injury.  But when someone sins against us and we love and forgive them, as the Godwins did, we have taken their sin and, instead of meeting it with something similar, we destroy it with something better.

Easter is a day when we celebrate life.  Steve Stephens tried to turn it into a day of death.  But death lost when the Godwin family forgave.  For where there is forgiveness, there is life.  After all, how do you think we receive eternal life?  Only through the forgiveness of sins that comes in Christ.

“God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)

April 24, 2017 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Torture, Facebook Live, and Racism

facebook-live

It is supposed to be a platform to broadcast funny moments with family, respond to questions in real time from people who follow you on social media, and provide updates on your life.  Now it has become synonymous with torture.

When four young adults took to Facebook Live on New Year’s weekend, they did so to broadcast their torture of a mentally disabled 18-year-old man from a western suburb of Chicago.  According to Fox News, the broadcast:

Showed him cowering in a corner while someone yelled “F— white people!” and “F— Donald Trump!” At one point, the man was held at knifepoint and told to curse the president-elect.

The video also showed the man being kicked and hit repeatedly, while his scalp was cut. The group apparently forced him to drink water from a toilet.

Hate crime charges have now been filed against the four involved in the attack.  In this particular instance, the four attackers were black and the victim was white.  Reporting for The Washington Post, Mark Berman and Derek Hawkins explain:

When asked whether the hate crime charges stemmed from the 18-year-old’s mental health or his race — both of which are factors listed in the state’s hate crime statute — [Chicago Area North Detectives Commander Kevin] Duffin said: “It’s half a dozen of one, six of the other.”

Even though the Facebook Live video is still available through several outlets, I have not watched it.  Just from what I have read about its content, I’m not sure I could stomach it.  This is the kind of crime that rends any reasonable heart.

A crime like this brings to the forefront – again – issues of racism and hatred.  If the language they used on the video is any indication, these attackers seemed to be animated by a hatred for white people, a political animus for Donald Trump, and a potential disparagement of this young man’s mental capacities.

Ironically, the problem with racism of any sort is that racism always goes deeper than race.  Racism betrays a fundamental inability to see a certain group of people as actual people.  Racism ties a person’s value and dignity either to the color of their skin or to the origin of their birth rather than to the fact of their humanity.  This is why, from a Christian perspective, racism is ultimately a spiritual problem.  Scripture reminds us that, simply by virtue of being human, we are imbued with a measure of value and dignity.  Thus, when human lives are not treated with appropriate value or dignity, God’s anger is inflamed.

Certainly, there are things on a macro-scale that have been done and can continue to be done to stem the tide of racism-at-large.  Political legislation, protest movements, and dedicated activists are all important to confronting racism wherever it rears its ugly head.  But we, as individuals, can also confront racism on a micro-scale by how we treat each other.  Be honest with yourself:  do you treat every person with whom you come into contact as fully human?  Or do you see some groups of people – whether those groups be demarcated by race, socioeconomic status, or even simple personality type  – as less than human?  Treating people as less than human can manifest itself in a myriad of ways.  Sometimes, it is a declared disdain for a certain group of people based on a certain feature of that group.  More often than not, however, we treat people as less than human when we regard them as annoyances, looking past them instead of loving them.  In a micro-way, then, confronting racism can be as simple as an act of kindness that affirms a person’s humanity.

To whom can you be kind today?  Even if your kindness never gets broadcast on Facebook Live, it will be much more worthwhile than what has become the platform’s most famous – and infamous – broadcast.  And that, at least, is a place to start.

January 9, 2017 at 5:15 am 2 comments

The Real Truth About Fake News

news

Recently, I came across a New York Times feature piece bemoaning the increase of what are deemed “fake news sites.”  These are websites that purport to share what which is newsworthy, but regularly play fast and loose with the facts, usually to further a particular political agenda.  For instance, days before the election, a news story from The Denver Guardian received hundreds of thousands of shares on social media:  “FBI AGENT SUSPECTED IN HILLARY EMAIL LEAKS FOUND DEAD IN APPARENT MURDER-SUICIDE.”  It sounded salacious – and terrifying.  There was only only problem:  it was completely fabricated.  For starters, The Denver Guardian did not exist before this year.  Moreover, the article contained misspellings and demonstrably untrue details, such as a reference to the “Walkerville Police Department” in Maryland.  Walkersville does not have a police department.  It should also be noted that no other noted news outlets picked up this story, which, if true, would have caused a stir among at least certain corners of the media.  Still, this article was shared more than half a million times on Facebook alone.

Of course, fake news is nothing new.  Tabloids have been around for a long time and have managed to prove very profitable precisely because they are more concerned with feeding readers titillating stories than true ones.  Indeed, each year, Oxford Dictionaries names a “word of the year.”  This year’s word is “post-truth,” because it seems “to capture the English-speaking public’s mood and preoccupations…where people lived through divisive, populist upheavals that often seemed to prize passion above all else – including facts.”

This particular surge of fake news fury seems to have been fueled not only by political passion, but, at least in part, by what many perceive to be the bias of traditional news outlets.  For example, the Pulitzer Prize winning website politifact.com has been widely panned because, though it purports to check the truthfulness of what politicians say in public forums, it has been shown to rate what some politicians say – especially those who are more conservative – as “false” even though some of the statements in question could reasonably be considered as true.  In other words, a website that claims to be devoted to uncovering the truth has been shown to be, in some instances, clouding it.

Christians have long held the truth in high regard.  We do, after all, follow a man who not only claims to “tell the truth,” but actually to “be the truth.”  This is why it is so incumbent on us to watch what we say, what we write, what we teach, and, yes, what we post on social media.  We have not always been the best at the this.  For instance, have ever you heard it claimed that Christians divorce at the same rate as non-Christians? This may sound alarming.  But it shouldn’t be.  Because it’s not true.

One interesting trend in churches is that of fact-checking sermons.  Many folks will now Google a statistic that a pastor cites or a publicly available anecdote that a pastor shares to check whether or not it is true.  Can you imagine the damage done to the Christian witness if a pew-sitter finds that some of what a pastor is saying is not, in fact, true?

A willingness to be less than concerned with the truth can often be symptomatic of a deeper disease.  On the one hand, it can be symptomatic of an intellectual laziness.  With so many competing facts and figures floating around, sometimes it takes time to chase down what is accurate and what is not. Some people simply do not want to be bothered.  It’s easier to take the first thing you find and run with it.  But if you want to put in a little extra work to verify what you read, this terrific (and funny) article by Matt Masur offers some simple suggestions on how to fact check that Facebook post that raises your hackles.

A lack of concern with the truth can also be a symptom of a desperate desire to bolster a particular argument, even if that comes at the cost of the integrity of reality.  That is, whether it is posting a cagey news story on social media or citing a suspect statistic in a sermon, some people simply cannot resist the kind of “slam-dunk” affirmations these kinds of stories and statistics provide.  Unfortunately, once they are shown to be false, they can actually undermine the very argument they seek to make.

If we truly believe in whatever arguments we make, the truthful versions of these arguments ought to be persuasive enough.  If we don’t think they are, we don’t need a sensationalistic zinger to make our case.  We need different arguments.  After all, Jesus is quite clear that deceit comes from only one place – a place that is the antithesis of the kingdom of God.  The truth is enough.  So let’s stick with the truth, celebrate the truth, and traffic in the truth.

November 21, 2016 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

#Blessed

Credit:  socialmediaexaminer.com

Credit: socialmediaexaminer.com

I don’t know how many times I’ve received the prayer request.  But it’s definitely more times than I can remember.  “Pray that God will bless my…” and then fill in the blank.  “Finances.”  “Job Search.”  “Move.”  “Golf Game.”  “Baby Shower.”  And the list could go on and on.

Now, on the one hand, I have no particular problem with these kinds of prayer requests per se.  Indeed, when people come to me with these kinds of prayers, I gladly oblige.  But on the other hand, even though we pray to be blessed, I’m not so sure we always understand what it truly entails to be blessed, at least not biblically.

The other day, I came across an article by Jessica Bennett of The New York Times chronicling all the blessings she has stumbled across on social media.  She opens:

Here are a few of the ways that God has touched my social network over the past few months:

S(he) helped a friend get accepted into graduate school. (She was “blessed” to be there.)

S(he) made it possible for a yoga instructor’s Caribbean spa retreat. (“Blessed to be teaching in paradise,” she wrote.)

S(he) helped a new mom outfit her infant in a tiny designer frock. (“A year of patiently waiting and it finally fits! Feeling blessed.”)

S(he) graced a colleague with at least 57 Facebook wall postings about her birthday. (“So blessed for all the love,” she wrote, to approximately 900 of her closest friends.)

God has, in fact, recently blessed my network with dazzling job promotions, coveted speaking gigs, the most wonderful fiancés ever, front row seats at Fashion Week, and nominations for many a “30 under 30” list. And, blessings aren’t limited to the little people, either. S(he) blessed Macklemore with a wardrobe designer (thanks for the heads up, Instagram!) and Jamie Lynn Spears with an engagement ring (“#blessed #blessed #blessed!” she wrote on Twitter). S(he)’s been known to bless Kanye West and Kim Kardashian with exotic getaways and expensive bottles of Champagne, overlooking sunsets of biblical proportion (naturally).[1]

Apparently, Bennett has a lot of extraordinarily “blessed” friends.  She even tells the story of a girl who posted a picture of her posterior on Facebook with the caption, “Blessed.”  Really?

The theology behind the kind of blessing Bennett outlines is shallow at best and likely heretical in actuality.  The so-called “god” who bestows these social media blessings is ill-defined and vacuous, as Bennett intimates with her references to “god” as “s(he),” and the blessings from this divine turn out to be quite petty.  Frocks that fit, birthday wishes on Facebook, and financial windfalls all qualify to be part of the “blessed” life.

All this leads Bennett to suspect that these “blessings” are really nothing more than people cynically

… invoking holiness as a way to brag about [their] life … Calling something “blessed,” has become the go-to term for those who want to boast about an accomplishment while pretending to be humble, fish for a compliment, acknowledge a success (without sounding too conceited), or purposely elicit envy.

That sounds about right.  “Blessed” is just a word people use to thinly disguise a brag.

True biblical blessing, of course, is quite different – and much messier.  Jesus’ list of blessings sounds quite different from what you’ll find on Facebook:

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. (Luke 6:20-22)

Poverty, hunger, mourning, and persecution all qualify to be part of the blessed life.  Why?  Because true blessing involves much more than what happens to you in this life.  It involves God’s promises for the next.

All this is not to say that the good gifts we receive in this life are not blessings.  But such blessings must be received with a proper perspective – that they are blessings not just because we happen to like them, but because it is God who gives them.  Indeed, one of the most interesting features of the Hebrew word for “blessing,” barak, is that it can be translated either as “bless” (e.g., Numbers 6:24) or as “curse” (e.g., Psalm 10:3), depending on context.  What makes the difference between whether something is a blessing or a curse?  Faith – a confidence that a blessing is defined not in terms of what something is, but in terms of who gives it.  This is why when we are poor, hungry, mourning, and persecuted, we can still be blessed.  Because we can still have the Lord.  And there is no better blessing than Him.

Put that on Instagram.

__________________________

[1] Jessica Bennett, “They Feel ‘Blessed,’” The New York Times (5.2.2014).

May 19, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Happy Thanksgiving!

"Freedom from Want" by Norman Rockwell, 1943. Credit:  arthistory.about.com

“Freedom from Want” by Norman Rockwell, 1943.
Credit: arthistory.about.com

It’s been all over Facebook.  People are posting all the reasons they are thankful.  My wife has joined in the Facebook thankfulness fun.  As a teacher, she’s organizing her thankfulness thoughts alphabetically – using each letter of the alphabet to call to mind something for which she is thankful.  I wonder what she’ll post about when she gets to “Z”?

As we head into another Thanksgiving holiday this week, I want to share with you, as I did last year, some of my favorite thoughts on thankfulness from Abraham Lincoln:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.  To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.  In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict … Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battlefield; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.  No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things.  They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.[1]

These words are from Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day proclamation of 1863 and, like so many of the posts I’ve seen on Facebook, offer a myriad of reasons to be thankful.   But what I appreciate so much about Lincoln’s thoughts on thankfulness – and the reason I share these words again – is that his thankfulness reaches its pinnacle not as he is talking about fruitful fields and healthful skies, or the abundant yields of plough, shuttle, ship, axe, and mines, or the population increase among the states.  Rather, President Lincoln’s thankfulness reaches its pinnacle when he speaks of “the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”  In other words, Lincoln is most thankful for what God does through Jesus Christ.

This Thanksgiving, we certainly have many things for which we can be thankful.  But as we give thanks for many things, may we never forget to heartily celebrate and give thanks for the most important thing:  God’s Son, Jesus Christ.  He is the One who gives us reason not only to be thankful for temporal blessings now, but promises us that we will be thankful in eternal dwellings later.


[1] Abraham Lincoln, “Proclamation of Thanksgiving” (10.3.1863).

November 25, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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