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Federal Agents Quietly Using Social Media 171

Posted by kdawson
from the friend-of-the-devil dept.
SpuriousLogic passes along this excerpt from the ChiTrib: "The Feds are on Facebook. And MySpace, LinkedIn, and Twitter, too. US law enforcement agents are following the rest of the Internet world into popular social-networking services, going undercover with false online profiles to communicate with suspects and gather private information, according to an internal Justice Department document that offers a tantalizing glimpse of issues related to privacy and crime-fighting. ... The document... makes clear that US agents are already logging on surreptitiously to exchange messages with suspects, identify a target's friends or relatives and browse private information such as postings, personal photographs, and video clips. Among other purposes: Investigators can check suspects' alibis by comparing stories told to police with tweets sent at the same time about their whereabouts. Online photos from a suspicious spending spree... can link suspects or their friends to robberies or burglaries." The FoIA lawsuit was filed by the EFF, which has posted two documents obtained from the action, from the DoJ and Internal Revenue (more will be coming later). The rights group praises the IRS for spelling out limitations and prohibitions on deceptive use of social media by its agents — unlike the DoJ. The US Marshalls and the BATFE could not find any documents related to the FoIA request, so presumably they have no guidelines or prohibitions in this area.
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Federal Agents Quietly Using Social Media

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  • by calibre-not-output (1736770) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @04:48PM (#31501184) Homepage
    If you need a leaked document to know that spies are spying, you fail at life. Obviously information-gathering agencies will deploy personnel wherever there are large amounts of potentially useful information to be gathered.
    • by pavon (30274) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @04:53PM (#31501238)

      Where the men are men, the women are men, and the little girls are FBI agents.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        Hi, I'm Chris Hansen from Dateline NBC. Why don't you take a seat over there.

      • by metlin (258108)

        Funny, I remember reading that quote re: IRC, back in the day.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by halcyon1234 (834388)

          Funny, I remember reading that quote re: IRC, back in the day.

          That wasn't a quote. That was an FBI agent.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Yvan256 (722131)
        "In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were REAL men, women were REAL women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were REAL small furry creatures from Aplha Centauri." - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
    • If you need a leaked document to know that spies are spying, you fail at espionage.

      I think it was an overstatement to say "life" especially since, to me, facebook and other social networking sites are quite the opposite of life.

      • by Chyeld (713439)

        If you need a leaked document to know that spies are spying, you fail at espionage.

        I think it was an overstatement to say "life" especially since, to me, facebook and other social networking sites are quite the opposite of life.

        Ipso Facto...

    • by HiThere (15173)

      Actually, this seems reasonable.

      N.B.: That *DOESN'T* mean I think that it's reasonable for them to be able to snoop on my e-mail, or anything I didn't intentionally make public. But for them to look at publicly posted information is quite reasonable, even if they are pretending to be someone else.

    • by solferino (100959)

      If you need a leaked document to know that spies are spying, you fail at life.

      "you fail at life" -- What's with the juvenile hyperbole? The basis of empiricism is confirmation of hypotheses. It's good to get detailed confirmation of (an almost certain) suspicion. And the detail is what is interesting here.

      p.s. It wasn't a leaked document. It was two documents released under a FOI request.

  • I'd hope so. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mekkah (1651935) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @04:50PM (#31501200) Journal
    If you are making your information publicly available, wouldn't you expect your government to take advantage of it?

    Hint: Don't accept friend requests from someone named, Uncle Sam, Uncle Sammy, or that super model that wants to know where you live and were Saturday night between 10pm and 2 am.

    Oh and don't tweet if you're gonna lie about it later to police.
    • Re:I'd hope so. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by lxt (724570) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @04:58PM (#31501314) Journal
      Exactly. People who are stupid enough to fall for it deserve what they get.

      This isn't the government going behind your back, putting you under covert surveillance. It's completely in the open. A friend of mine used to work for the MA state police, in the computer forensics unit. He was amazed at the number of gang members who would just openly accept his friend request on Facebook, which would lead to him quietly beavering away to figure out the social network of the gang, where they met, what they got up to. Sneaky? Perhaps, but not illegal.

      Really, people are just plain stupid.

      • If they were going through some kind of back door to read peoples private messages on forums etc then I'm be against this but it looks like they're doing the equivalent of going and reading what you've posted up on the wall of the local community centre.

      • Re:I'd hope so. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @05:11PM (#31501486)
        However, the government should not be taking advantage of stupidity to undermine our rights. It is one thing for an agent to communicate with people who are already under investigation -- such as with your state police friend who communicates with gang members -- but it is an entirely different story when the government starts randomly probing into people's lives. The line is very, very fine here...
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          You have the right to remain silent. Use it! If you give up that right anything you say can and will be used against you. Nothing you say will help you. Clam up.

        • Re:I'd hope so. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Dog-Cow (21281) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @05:23PM (#31501614)

          We're not talking about the police asking Facebook to hand over server storage so they can browse at their leisure. We're talking about government agents using Facebook or Twitter the exact same way that you or I would use it. There's nothing wrong with that.

          I suppose that it's possible someone could have an issue with possible entrapment, but I can't see where there's a privacy issue just because you don't think the stranger whose invite you accepted might be a cop.

          • Re:I'd hope so. (Score:5, Interesting)

            by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @05:31PM (#31501694)
            No, we are talking about government agents create fake profiles for the purpose of extracting information from people and granting access to the profile to other agents, and then calling it an "undercover operation." It is the equivalent of a government agent convincing someone to give the agent a key to their home, so that law enforcement personnel can wander through their house and look through their things.

            It is as much of a privacy issue as an FBI agent going undercover as a babysitter would be. If it is just a technique for finding information on people who are already suspects in a crime, it is a prudent method for gathering evidence; but if and when the situation changes and the government starts using these tactics against random people, just to see if crimes are being committed, then it is a serious invasion of privacy.
          • by a whoabot (706122)

            "We're talking about government agents using Facebook or Twitter the exact same way that you or I would use it."

            When I read the TOS for Facebook it said I was not allowed to supply false information, but this story says that the law enforcement personnel are doing just that. So they are not using Facebook just as you or I would use it.

        • by FroBugg (24957)

          As someone else pointed out, this isn't just the collection of data in aggregate that can be sorted through later.

          This kind of data collection is (relative to other digital data gathering, at least) fairly labor-intensive. Nobody from the FBI is going to pretend to be your friend on Facebook unless your name has already come to their attention for some other reason. You're not worth their time otherwise.

          Now, whether they're investigating you because you've committed a crime or because you're a communist is

          • Re:I'd hope so. (Score:5, Interesting)

            by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @05:35PM (#31501744)
            What stops this process from being automated or performed en masse? There are chat bots that could carry on a conversation with a person long enough to convince the person to accept a friend request, and the government could then simply download the entire profile that the person posted -- and continue to receive updates, and all done automatically. It would not be trivial, but it is certainly conceivable that such an operation could be carried out by a large agency that employs expert programmers.
          • by causality (777677)

            This kind of data collection is (relative to other digital data gathering, at least) fairly labor-intensive. Nobody from the FBI is going to pretend to be your friend on Facebook unless your name has already come to their attention for some other reason. You're not worth their time otherwise.

            That's the way all government investigation should be. Unless they have a good reason to believe you have committed a crime, your name should never come up and data about you should never be gathered. If they do have

        • by Shotgun (30919)

          However, the government should not be taking advantage of stupidity to undermine our rights.

          Would someone please mod this "+1...World's Dumbest Criminal's Apologist"

          Heh, betterunixthanunix, did you know that if you buy a car with $20K in small, unmarked bills, the police will consider you a person of interest and start an investigation on you?

          Did you know that if you are in a gang, there might be policeman around you that look like normal people? They call themselves "undercover agents".

          Did you know that the "young lady" that is asking you if you "want to party" could actually be an undercover po

          • by causality (777677)

            However, the government should not be taking advantage of stupidity to undermine our rights.

            Would someone please mod this "+1...World's Dumbest Criminal's Apologist"

            Heh, betterunixthanunix, did you know that if you buy a car with $20K in small, unmarked bills, the police will consider you a person of interest and start an investigation on you?

            Did you know that if you are in a gang, there might be policeman around you that look like normal people? They call themselves "undercover agents".

            Did you know that the "young lady" that is asking you if you "want to party" could actually be an undercover policeman? Yeah, he could actually be in drag, but it might also be a policewoman.

            The things that you do in public are not private. You have no right to privacy in public places. If you don't want to tell people that you're dealing drugs at the Grateful Dead Look-a-like concert, don't publicize on FACEBOOK that you're dealing drugs at the Grateful Dead Look-a-like concert.

            Had the GP said "the government should not be taking advantage of stupidity to catch criminals" your comment would make some sense. Since he did not say that, I must regard your comment as a knee-jerk emotional reaction. I saw nothing which indicated that the GP was an apologist for criminals.

            In other words, it is possible to catch criminals without undermining civil rights. It is also possible to undermine civil rights without catching criminals. The desire that the police not violate or undermine c

        • Friending someone on MyFaceJournal isn't really any different than an undercover officer striking up a conversation with them while they're picking up something at their local convenience store. They're in public with no expectation of privacy.

        • > the government should not be taking advantage of stupidity to undermine our rights.

          I agree. The classic example is coming to your door--they always ask "may we come in" instead of just speaking with you there, even if they're just there to ask a very quick question, because if you consent you waive your fourth amendment right to be free from search and seizure.

          --

          IANAL; don't believe me.

          • Actually, you don't. Inviting an officer or agent into your home doesn't not void your search and seizure rights. All it does is allow them to observe the area of the house you allowed them into. It's "plain site" only at that point. Until they have a warrant, they aren't allowed to snoop in closed off areas. However, once you've allowed them in, they are likely to ask or push for more access. You have your rights still, but you must exercise them.
            • You don't entirely waive them, it's true--but you do somewhat waive them. They can't, for example, open a closed container, but they can amble about the living area. Having consented to entry into the home makes your case against them significantly harder if they do find something, since you have to start arguing about the scope of consent.

      • by causality (777677)

        Exactly. People who are stupid enough to fall for it deserve what they get.

        This isn't the government going behind your back, putting you under covert surveillance. It's completely in the open. A friend of mine used to work for the MA state police, in the computer forensics unit. He was amazed at the number of gang members who would just openly accept his friend request on Facebook, which would lead to him quietly beavering away to figure out the social network of the gang, where they met, what they got up to. Sneaky? Perhaps, but not illegal.

        Really, people are just plain stupid.

        With all of the surveillance and wiretap capabilities they possess, the mandatory backdoors built into many telecommunications systems, and the willingness the feds have shown to use these without first obtaining warrants, I am almost surprised they bother doing this. It's old-fashioned policework, of the sort that seems to be going out of style as we keep approaching a surveillance society. It sounds like at least some of them recognize that when real crimes that harm real people are committed, no Orwell

      • The criminal "profession" has an intelligence bias. Most intelligent people who contemplate crime realize the profit isn't much better than working a day job if you want to do it in a way that there is a very minimal chance of getting caught. "Well, I could make a living stealing things, but in order to steal x I need to recon for y hours, buy z tools, only do it n times every month per area, and be cautious in every aspect of my life. Shit, why don't I just start my own business instead?"

        • The criminal "profession" has an intelligence bias. Most intelligent people who contemplate crime realize the profit isn't much better than working a day job if you want to do it in a way that there is a very minimal chance of getting caught.

          Tell that to Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello or Meyer Lansky. I'm sure they'd be interested to know that running Organized Crime isn't as profitable as an honest job would have been.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Probably means that there's a shortage of real crooks like terrorists and spies, so the feds have to do something to justify their elephantine budgets and keep their bust-numbers high.

      Hey, ICE? Hi, this is Agent Smith from the FBI and I'm calling to report a MySpace profile featuring a black guy with gold chains and a new car that he probably stole from some hapless old lady. Can you go pick 'him up for me? Warrants? Nah, if the judge asks just say that the guy's an illegal alien or he's downloading mus
    • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @05:04PM (#31501390)
      Facebook is popular because its users believe that their information is not publicly available. Yes, it is a complete falsehood, but the reality of life is that most people do not realize just how public the information on Facebook really is, and that is why these sorts of activities are so problematic. We are supposed to live in a country where the government does not arbitrarily spy on its citizens, even for the purposes of law enforcement.
    • by aztektum (170569)

      But Uncle Sams wants ME!... to accept his friend request!

    • Why do people get so upset when they find out that H.R. departments are trying to comb MySpace or Facebook before hiring a candidate? Same idea, but simply a group trying to glean the data for a different purpose.

      The thing is, yes - I fully realize law enforcement is going to make use of the tools available to them. If they can see my info on Facebook and they're interested in me, obviously they'll take a peek at it.

      BUT, there's a danger here that comes by misinterpreting the data, too. For starters, who

      • by Moridin42 (219670)

        I'd hazard a guess that law enforcement wouldn't move on people like that former girlfriend of yours based on what they found on her social networking. Like any interaction with the police, anything said can be used against you. It will not be used for you. If there is evidence of criminal action on your social network's of choice page, it will be used against you. If there is only shady, but not illegal, content they will keep investigating you. But it obviously isn't going to exonerate you.

  • Also.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by e2d2 (115622) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @04:54PM (#31501260)

    They can also meet you at a bar and pretend they want some coke. A fucking travesty of justice I tell you.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Except that this is different, in that once an agent has "friended" you on Facebook, your profile becomes available to the entire investigative agency. If an agent meets me at the bar and engages me in conversation, they learn only as much as I tell them -- perhaps that is a significant amount, perhaps they can use that conversation to investigate me further, but they are not receiving a profile of my entire life, and they cannot continue questioning me when I am not around. It is the nature of round-the-
      • Re:Also.. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Thinboy00 (1190815) <thinboy00 AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @05:27PM (#31501648) Journal

        Hint: Don't friend random strangers on Facebook et al.

        • by Sancho (17056) *

          I have heard that on Facebook, friends of friends can see your profile. That's why I'm not on Facebook.

          Also, I wonder how strongly a court would trust a twitter accounting of your whereabouts. I've been spreading disinformation for years to keep burglars and data miners off of their game.

          • by Khashishi (775369)

            that's optional, but not default.

            • by Sancho (17056) *

              Good to know, thanks.

              Waaaiit.... are you an FBI agent trying to get me to join Facebook?

          • I've been spreading disinformation for years to keep burglars and data miners off of their game.
            That's great, but while there are many 'Jeff's in the world, and many 'Tom's as well, you are Sancho. Frank Gifford is not Sancho, neither is Scott Baio Sancho. You are Sancho. And really, that's all we need to know... you're hired!
             

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anachragnome (1008495)

          "Hint: Don't friend random strangers on Facebook et al."

          While that is good advice, it can be refined some...

          Hint: Don't use Facebook at all.

      • by Shotgun (30919)

        Unless they become your friend, and then you invite them back to your 'crib' and give them a key to your front door. Maybe they become close enough of a 'friend' that you invite them to your next drug deal, where the other cops that are listening in over the hidden microphone learn the names of the other dealers and start surveillenc on them. Eventually, they map out your entire friend network and arrest everyone in one big bust.

        Of course, that cost thousands of dollars to pull off and puts policemen in d

      • It is the nature of round-the-clock access to a person's profile and life, and the spillover into their friend's lives ... that makes this a more intrusive form of investigation.

        Go up to an agent or detective and tell him that you think his investigation into the private life of his murder or drug dealing suspect is too intrusive. See what he says. After he stops laughing, of course, you'll need to wait for that.

      • by e2d2 (115622)

        I would put forward that it's within their rights, as they are charged with the safety of society, to use any tools necessary to investigate crime. The fact that the suspect has to engage the agent and interact with them means it's fair play. It's when they are not privy to it that judicial oversight is needed to ensure that it warrants investigation.

  • The document... makes clear that US agents are already logging on surreptitiously to exchange messages with suspects, identify a target's friends or relatives and browse private information such as postings, personal photographs, and video clips.

    Is this private data that they've "hacked" into (a la Zuckerberg [businessinsider.com]), or is this a case of the feds reading whatever they found posted on the dude's wall or open Twitter page?

    • Some of it concerns "public" information -- that is, information that the user expects to be public -- but some of the techniques described involve "friending" a person under investigation, and then having access to their entire profile. It is not "hacking," but it has a similar effect.
    • It's social engineering (a la phising, but assumes that the reader is competent (knows how to use the system) but dumb (can't tell a good idea from a bad idea)).

  • by captaindomon (870655) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @04:55PM (#31501268)
    How is this different than what the FBI does offline? It's just an online version of an offline undercover sting, right?
    • You are correct. They aren't doing anything that you nor I couldn't do - besides having access to police records and placing people under arrest. The actual information gathering is pretty standard stuff.

  • I wouldn't be surprised if they're all using headphones to listen to youtube videos and peoples favorites songs on myspace. I believe their latex gloves also make typing quieter
  • Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SoupGuru (723634) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @04:57PM (#31501304)
    If they weren't doing something like this, I'd wonder what the hell was wrong with them.
  • Because, you know, people twitter "going downtown to cap off @bigjimmy then getting stromboli" or whatever... and like tweets really establish an alibi anyway. Maybe with geo-tagging, but even then that's suspect, for there is no reason to believe that the perp didn't give his phone to someone to go tweet something from somewhere else.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Nos. (179609)

      No, the tweet (or whatever) likely isn't proof, but it does given the authorities reason to investigate further. If you're a suspect, and answered questions one way, and posted to facebook that you were doing something completely different, its worth investigating the discrepancy. ie: You told the police you were home in bed, but you're friends' facebook pages all say you were out partying... well, its worth going to talk to your friends.

    • by Shotgun (30919)

      You're not thinking on the level of a criminal, bsDaemon. Face it, we're not talking the fairest and brightest of society here. We're talking about that species of human that has barely above being an evolutionary kickback. They're STUPID. We're talking about the sort of people that would kill Michael Jordan's father on the side of a lonely NC highway, hear and see the ensuing hoopla spread through the news, and THEN go around showing off his NBA championship ring.

      Collecting Tweets and Facebook entries

  • However, sometimes social media can work for the greater good. Take this instance http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/11/12/facebook.alibi/index.html [cnn.com] where police were able to verify a status update to prove that someone was falsely accused of a crime.
  • by MSRedfox (1043112) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @05:04PM (#31501384)
    So if they want to use my tweets to break alibis, does this mean I can make tweets to reinforce them? '8:00 in bed and going to sleep' '9:00 woke up to the sound of a gun shot in the distance, I hope Bob the snitch is okay' '9:15 Going downtown with Officers for a cup of coffee, they are so nice' '9:30 after officers read my tweets, they apologized for wasting my time and drove me home'
    • by Shotgun (30919)

      Yes. It is reinforcement. Not completely foundational reinforcement, but in an investigation everything counts (until it doesn't).

  • How exactly are they gathering "private" information from public web sites? Hint: if you post it to a public web site, it is not private any more!

  • by surmak (1238244) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @05:07PM (#31501430)

    I don't see a problem as long as they are not doing anything that any other user can do. If they lie to you to get you to accept them as a friend, or browse public data, that is perfectly OK.

    On the other hand, I would have problem if they get access to the database, or otherwise bypass the user-managed access control/privacy features. I would also have a problem if they developed a Facebook app and tricked a suspect into running it. (apps can have more access to your profile than friends do.)

  • As a member of SDS (Score:3, Interesting)

    by linzeal (197905) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @05:18PM (#31501548) Homepage Journal

    We are not the baby boomer's SDS run by Marxist dogma by the way. Just wanted to get that out there before people start yelling commie. Mostly we act as a guard against the insane grabs of power and money by academic institutions that have been occurring at an alarming rate since the late 1990's. We are about as socialist on average as the socialist democrats are in Europe, even though we have some outliers.

    We have had an online presence for years and the one thing we set out at the start was to be open so if infiltration happened it would be well documented. There are no closed email lists, no secret societies and no calls to violence or overthrowing of the government. However, that does not mean that we have not been spied upon [newsds.org] and we do take threats to our civil rights to assembly, speech and liberty seriously. What we worry about mostly is the threat of the government running counter intelligence programs against us like COUNTELPRO [wikipedia.org] in the 70's since the FBI and the US DOD have been linked to some instances of agent provocateur activity during the Bush years. So the question that any investigation of these acts by the government is when they stop being surveillance and start being about collecting data on honest citizens who surround a suspect and via police misconduct and prosecutorial witchhunts.

  • And this is news how?
    How could anyone not know this immediately?

  • browse private information such as postings, personal photographs, and video clips.

    No. What you're referring to is *public information* if they can get to it through the normal user interface. Now, if they call up facebook and say "I want to see so and so's non-public photos", fine, it's a problem, they need a warrant.

    But I'm tired of this nonsense where someone posts all kinds of crap on their facebook account, make it public (or allow "friends" to see it), and then act like it's not supposed to be view

    • by Macgrrl (762836)

      Over recent years people, especially young people, have gradually become accoustomed to posting more and more information about themselve on teh interwebs. Teenagers in particular have become aclimatised to this lesser expectation of privacy - it's almost as if they need to post about an event to validate that they have experienced it (SS or it didn't happen).

      Whether intentional or not, these poeple are being trained not to expect privacy for themselves or anyone else - aided by the media and modern celebra

  • In other news, intelligence gathering agencies read newspapers, listen to news, read blogs, read Usenet posting, read Slashdot and other forum and news sites. They sometimes post to the newspapers, usenet and web sites to deceive potential suspects.

    How is them reading/posting on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Twitter any different?

    I heard sometime ago that one of the most effective way to gather intelligence was to read newspapers if you knew how to correlate things. I do not see why this principle could

  • Seriously how many folks "here" and have facebook accounts are looking for feds now??

  • http://www.twitter.com/JoeFBI:
    I'll be at the corner of 1st and Main at 1:00AM with the goods. Look for a black SUV, tinted windows. Bring the money.

    http://www.twitter.com/BobDEA:
    I'll be at the corner of 1st and Main at 1:00AM with the money. Look for a black SUV, tinted windows. Bring the goods.

    And now the fun ensues.....

  • by CPE1704TKS (995414) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @09:58PM (#31503998)

    Who is surprised that the Feds are using Facebook??

    Does anyone not realize that they are mining all the photos on Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, etc, for pictures of people, and cross-referencing them based on tags? Talk about a wealth of photos that can be used to definitively identify a person.

    If you have been tagged on any photo on Facebook, most likely you are already in the Fed's database, as well as the ability to recognize your face as well. Walk anywhere near a camera, and those cameras can instantly use facial recognition to figure out your name, age, etc, simply based on freely available information from these social networks.

    Privacy is dead.

    • by Pecisk (688001)

      At that instant second when you pressed that button named "Publish", you waved away your privacy connected with this media/photos/whatever. No, privacy is not dead. You can't keep privacy if you are publishing something on Internet public resources.

  • look: if you make it public, its public. it can be abused. if you don't want it abused, don't make it public. and anything going over a wire to a wide open internet and not encrypted, is public

    its really that simple. do you expect corporations or governments to act virtuous? it is YOUR job to protect your privacy. if your privacy is violated, its YOUR fault. no, really. the alternative is that, for whatever reason, you actually trust the sharks and wolves to protect you

    why do people not realize this obvious

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