apple 2 computer showing bbs screen

How to build a Modern BBS

Preface

After reading an article here about building a modern Bulletin Board System, and crafting my own brief response here about how the website already is a modern BBS, I decided I should write a short guide on how you can construct a modern equivalent of a BBS on the web using mostly free tools.

A computer & phone line

In the 1980s operating a BBS required a computer and at least one phone line. Back then a single phone line would cost $20 to $50 per month. Today, a phone line still costs a minimum of $20 a month (phone service is a racket!), but you don’t need to spend that much. For $5 per month you can rent a Virtual Server from Digital Ocean with a dedicated IP address. As far as quality and reliability are concerned Digital Ocean are the best in the marketplace, which is why I recommend them. The link I provide is a referral link which will give me credit toward my own hosting bill if you sign up.

Digital Ocean Hosting

Website Software

It is true that you could build a website from scratch so you don’t actually need to use this software but that takes a lot of time and you’d be re-inventing the wheel. That’s okay if you’re a developer and you’ve got a great idea for a wheel that nobody has thought of before, but otherwise I recommend using WordPress. It’s free and mature, as well as very easy to start using.

WordPress.org

Message Boards

In the 1980s, “Message Boards” are where people would post and discuss topics. Today we call these things “Forums” but they serve the same functionality. The best software for setting up a message board on a website is phpBB. Not only is it free, but it has a really excellent user interface that meets all of the common needs and is very intuitive. It is stand-alone software and it is loaded with features. Installation is pretty easy but configuration can feel a bit daunting. Just take your time and read the documentation and you should be fine.

phpBB

DOOR Games

One of the coolest features of a BBS in the 1980s was Door Games. These were computer games that ran externally from the BBS software. The term ‘door’ was a reference to how the BBS acts as a gateway to access these games. This technology has evolved in multiple ways and powers many of the advanced capabilities seen on the internet today.

There are many ways to run games on your website. Software such as Unity or HTML5 make it possible to build modern games for the browser. However because Nostalgia is a big part of this theme, I’m going to recommend EM-DOSBOX, which is a plugin that allows you to run actual DOS games from within a web browser. The Internet Archive uses this same software for it’s video game archive website.

EM-DOSBOX

Real Time Chat

In the 1980s operating a chat system on a BBS was extremely expensive. First most free BBS software didn’t support it well at all, so you probably had to pay for a commercial platform. Second, every user required their own phone line connection, so if you wanted a 10 person chatroom you had to pay for 10 separate phone lines. Today it’s so much easier and cheaper.

There’s a lot of ‘chat’ plugins available for WordPress. I am going to focus on Matrix.org and Riot.im. There isn’t an easy ‘plugin’ available to install these on your website, but you could use an iframe to embed a riot.im chatroom. The Matrix protocol is still very early in development and as time goes on you can expect there will be simpler and more elegant solutions for this purpose.

Matrix.org
Riot.im

Summary

So there you have it all of the tools required to build a modern “BBS” on the web, and with the exception of server rental all of it is free. You could, in theory, do all of this on your own server running on your home internet connection but that introduces some challenges such as DNS addressing. It’s up to you if that’s worth the $5 saved.

You might notice I did not include detailed tutorials on each piece of this puzzle. That is intentional. This post is meant to be a starting point for people interested in this sort of project. There are already dozens of specific guides and tutorials available for each of the things I’ve linked. This kind of project represents an adventure and learning about the software is part of that adventure. Also, detailed information like installation procedures are likely to evolve over time. So if you’re looking for help with phpBB or WordPress, just do a web search for tutorials on those subjects and you’ll find dozens.

I hope you found this article helpful or useful. I welcome any comments on how to improve my recommendations.

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The website is the modern equivalent of a dialup BBS

Preface

Today I read a really cool and nostalgia article about the BBS, which stands for Bulletin Board System. BBSes were what the cool kids used to communicate online before there was a consumer internet. You can read that article here

I just had to comment, because BBSes played a significant role in my teenage life. I spent more time online than I did in the classroom. Seriously I failed several classes in high school because I never attended, I was at home playing Legend of the Red Dragon or responding to posts in the forums. I’ve included my response below:

My response

I think it’s awesome what you’re doing, I grew up on BBSes and I didn’t think they were weird at all, but everyone at school thought I was weird. Then the internet hit their living rooms and I don’t talk to those people anymore. Too busy getting paid $100/hr to build and support their websites.

While I love the nostalgia of this project, I think it’s worth noting that the “Modern BBS” is called a website. I know I know, ‘it’s not the same!’, believe me I get it. But from a purely end-user functionality standpoint, a website is exactly the same as a BBS, only improved.

Forums are handled by software such as phpBB (hands down the best UX in forums), you can play all sorts of web based games including dosbox classics with some java plugin, chat rooms are easy to embed especially with the new Matrix.org protocol, and of course we have various ‘wiki’ software to handle documents.

Best of all, an IP address is cheaper than a phone line ($5/mo droplets from Digital Ocean are the way to go) and the cheapest solutions can still handle 5–20 simultaneous visitors.

One of the things I always thought was really great about BBSes is how they empower “regular” people to organize and communicate ideas. Literally anybody can set one up, you don’t need a license or permit and the costs aren’t prohibitive. Websites are the same. We’ve been seeing the results of this anarchy for the past 30 years as corporations are no longer able to monopolize the distribution of information.

When I was a kid I ran my own BBS using the Renegade software. I had wicked ASCII art I found on pirate sites when you logged in, I forget what but it was probably a grim reaper or something. Now I have tailpuff.net and the first thing you see are high resolution full color graphics. It doesn’t tweak the nostalgia but it definitely is an improvement of the model first presented by the BBS.

How to Build a Modern BBS

I thought people might be interested in this idea, and so I decided I would provide some links to software and resources you can use to re-create all of the features of a BBS from your own blog website. These are not the only solutions, just my personal favorites.

Full disclosure: The Digital Ocean link is a referral link, if you sign up I will get credit toward my own hosting bill.

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care bears holding paws

Furry fandom is not an “accepting” community.

I was introduced to “Furry Fandom” in 1994

I was spending time in a role playing chatroom on America On-Line. Some friends of mine at the time introduced me to this thing called TLK Muck where I could role-play in the Lion King universe. It was basically a whole world built out of a chat network. I joined that for a few months and met some others who introduced me to something called “FurryMUCK”. This is how I learned about the Furry Fandom.

Care Bear at Heart

When I was growing up I would watch the care bears every morning at 5:30 before going to school. This was where I learned to socialize. I learned about being considerate of others and caring about their feelings. I learned to be nice instead of mean. Because of this, I did not get along well with most of the people at school, because most of them are dicks who do not care about anyone but themselves and their own instant gratification. Before you think I’m being extreme, we are talking about 10-18 year olds here.

O.G. Furry

Furry fandom spoke to all of my interests. I started attending and volunteering at conventions. I worked 10 years in the security department for Midwest FurFest, and 10 years in the Audio/Video department for Anthrocon. I was also on the Anthrocon Board of Directors for 3 years, as the head of the A/V crew. I worked 90 hour weekends. It was physically and emotionally taxing, and I enjoyed it because I was building this thing that so many people were enjoying.

“Retirement”

In 2009 I suffered a painful break-up and lost my job a few months later. The stress was too much. It was difficult enough finding money to attend conventions and so I stopped volunteering. It wasn’t until 2013 that I really got back on my feet, when I moved to Georgia and started my own business as a technology consultant.

I have been attending FWA each year since, and while I have felt the craving to volunteer I’ve forced myself to stay in retirement. Other people can do the hard work, and I will just enjoy it, I’ve told myself.

Making Friends Online

I’ve made most of my friends using the internet since the mid 1990s. Several of my friends have died in recent years, and others have written me out of their lives for this or that bullshit reason. So to find new friends I returned to the internet. I started joining “furry” themed chat groups based on interests I share. Surely I could find some new friends this way, I thought.

Furries are bullies. Furries are trolls.

What actually happened was something different entirely. I got banned from more than half of the groups I joined because I stood up to bullying. The pattern was so consistent I was able to identify the exact method they use, which I will describe in a moment. Every where I went, IRC, Telegram, Forums, and so on, the same thing happened.

The Playbook

I mentioned that the bullies use a consistent method, and here it is. Someone throws out some “innocent” looking statement into the chat, usually something based on the stated interest focus of that chat group. When someone responds to it, they gang up on that person. This happened to me a lot, because I thought the point of being in chat rooms for specific interests was to chat about those interests. I did not know they’ve been taken over completely by social predators. When I learned to stop taking the bait, I started seeing them doing it to other people.

Once the victim has been identified, you see the exact same people every time gang up on that victim. If this goes on long enough, the victim gets “banned” for “causing trouble”.

The Definition of Cause

The victim did not cause the trouble, the cause of the trouble was the person who threw out the bait in the first place.

the whole ugly thing is hiding behind “free hugs” like a creepy man handing out candy to children from his van.

This is the reality of “furry fandom” culture.

This is an organized and pervasive culture of bullying, it is going on every day, in every “furry” chat group.  This is not an “accepting” fandom. It’s a hostile place, full of real life predators, and the whole ugly thing is hiding behind “free hugs” like a creepy man handing out candy to children from his van.

I love anthropomorphic art and stories and I think a lot of furries are really awesome people. But this thing that I’ve born witness to for the past decade is not anything that I would ever support.

Sex is okay tho.

You want to know what doesn’t get attacked? Sex. If you’re sharing porn or encouraging sexual behavior, with the obvious exception of groups that explicitly forbid that, the bullies never target that. Intelligent conversations get you banned, mindless masturbation material is encouraged. This is 100% true, and not accidental at all. It’s intentional and it’s organized and it’s everywhere.

P.S. The Irony..

I tried posting something about this on /r/furry, a sub-reddit on the popular reddit forum service. They banned me. With their action in spite of my warnings they validated everything I’ve said.

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Linux: batch convert webp to png using ffmpeg

If you have some images in webp format, such as exported from Telegram’s “sticker” packs, and you want to convert them to standard png for use in other applications, I have written a small bash script which will convert all the webp files in a directory into png and then remove the webp files.

This requires that you have ffmpeg installed. If you don’t want the webp files deleted afterward just remove line 5.

If you find this useful let me know in the comments! I invite suggestions to improve upon it.

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stacks of money

DMARC is not the solution to E-mail Fraud.

The latest craze in E-mail security appears to be DMARC. Let me preface my post by saying I use DMARC, I use SPF and I use DKIM. I understand that people are mostly up in arms about the importance of DMARC because of how many major organizations haven’t adopted it. I understand it’s importance.

Problems with DMARC

Here’s the issue as I see it. DMARC does not solve phishing E-mails. It doesn’t do much more than SPF already does, and it doesn’t solve trust or identity in E-mail.

DMARC requires compliance by the recipient server to function at all, and all it does is tell the recipient to reject, quarantine, or allow fraudulent E-mails, a feature that SPF already provides.

This prevents someone from sending email from “custserv@paypal.com” but it doesn’t do anything to prevent them from sending an email from “custserv@payypal.com” which is how a huge number of phishing attacks are launched.

Oh and DMARC gives you some forensic information on who is sending fake E-mails from your domain. Which is completely useless in a high traffic real world scenario because you can’t take any effective action against the perpetrators.

Key Pair Signing & Encryption, a Real Solution.

Meanwhile we have PGP/GPG signatures which would, if properly implemented, provide a user friendly means of identifying the sender of an E-mail and verifying the integrity of an E-mail. But these have been completely disregarded by nearly 100% of organizations as “too difficult” to implement. Seriously, why doesn’t GMAIL come with a ‘PGP’ button?

PGP is arguably easier to implement worldwide than SPF + DKIM + DMARC. All you need to do is create the functionality client-side to create keys manage keyrings and interact with key databases. Compare this with setting up 3 different inline mail verification tools on every E-mail server in the world plus a slew of DNS records which can instruct servers to pass fake E-mails along without notifying the end users at all of suspicion.

Why are we being sold this half-assed solution to E-mail fraud when the real answer has existed for decades and would be easier to implement? If someone can explain why DMARC is being treated as the holy grail of E-mail security I would really appreciate it.

GPG/PGP is “Too Hard” for End Users

Bullshit. The difficulty of PGP/GPG has nothing to do with the technology and everything to do with the lack of proper support in E-mail clients. End Users don’t need to understand the technology at all, they just need a button that creates a key and publishes it to public key databases. The process is no more complicated than adding people to the address book on your phone.

Paranoid Conclusion

Using keypairs to verify authenticity of E-mail comes with a bonus feature, they can be used to encrypt E-mail to the point that it is “uncrackable”. Adding the signing capability to a service like GMAIL would also make it a lot easier for users to encrypt their E-mail, which would destroy Google’s business model since they read all of your E-mail to gather data. This is probably the #1 reason why keypairs have been ignored, with the #2 reason being pressure from world governments.

Your Thoughts?

My paranoid conclusion is not the only possible scenario, I would love to hear the opinions of other internet security experts on this issue.

Some Good News

You can implement PGP/GPG in your own E-mail and start using it with your friends, family and colleagues right away. And you should.  Visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation website to find some simple step by step tutorials for all platforms.

My Public Key: https://tailpuff.net/keys/

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Rainbow flag with "dont tread on me" snake

Gay Pride is Bullshit!

It was created to mock gay people

Humans are liars. There is one thing which is almost universally shared between adult humans, that is they hate their lives, they’re too scared to commit suicide, and they take out their rage on other humans. Straight men invented “Gay pride” to mock and make fun of people who will literally march in any parade no matter how insulting and degenerate it is. There are a few floats in each parade that are respectable, but that is not what everyone takes home from these events. What they take home is “Look at the faggots! Oh they’re such faggots!”

Gay lifestyle is bullshit

Sexuality is retarded. People are not born one way or another, they’re conditioned through years of experiences, teaching, and self-thought. They reach conclusions which are often subtle and difficult to pin down the sources of. Sexuality is one of those conclusions. All humans are capable of enjoying sex with both genders, but because of years of conditioning they often find one gender or the other sexually “disgusting”. Often this is an accidental process. In some cases it could have been deliberate.

There is no “queer community”.

Gay people do not have each other’s backs. Humans do not have each other’s backs. Humans are always on the brink of war with their own neighbors, for whatever stupid reason they’ve invented that week, and gay people are as much a part of that mental disease as any categorical group of people.

This is not an attack on your family.

Everyone has a tribe of friends they will defend fiercely.. You need to be careful not to assume that the bubble you live in every day represents the world at large.  This is not an attack on the bonds of your tiny tribe or family.

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Cloudflare’s “Keyless SSL” Feature violates trust and privacy.

SSL exists to ensure Privacy and Trust

SSL serves two purposes. Privacy and Trust. Both purposes are equal. Privacy means it encrypts your traffic, this ensures that packet sniffers on a public network can’t view your credit card number when you purchase something on Amazon. Trust means when you visit Amazon.com, you know that the responding server is actually Amazon.com

Without both Privacy and Trust, SSL is useless.

If you compromise either privacy or trust, the SSL certificate becomes completely worthless. Now your activities are at risk of being compromised, which is precisely what SSL exists to protect against.

KeyLess SSL violates both Privacy and Trust.

Cloudflare’s new feature “Keyless SSL” violates both privacy and trust. This dubious service operates by decrypting 100% of your web traffic between the server and Cloudflare’s network. That means Cloudflare can view your credit card numbers. All that is required is a Cloudflare employee to hide malicious code in their traffic inspection function and they could steal thousands or millions of credit card numbers in an hour.

Browsers should Declare all Cloudflare traffic “Insecure”.

The solution is simple. If SSL traffic comes from Cloudflare, one must assume that it has been decrypted and inspected during transit. This means it is not secure. Web Browsers need to declare this to the user. Traffic that comes from Cloudflare websites should be flagged as insecure, regardless of the SSL status.

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SFG Media Group

Who are they?

A quick web search reveals: “SFG Media Group is a digital content creation and distribution company using data science to empower journalists, writers and filmmakers.”

But who are they REALLY?

Well if their former employees are any indication, they are terrible people. Here’s an excerpt from a GlassDoor review:

Poor management and no concern for employees.

I was hired with a 2 week training period for a writer position only to find out that it was actually a try out. The people who hired me knew that I was quitting my job to work there but didn’t warn me that they might not take me after the 2 weeks training period (they also asked me to work over the week-end with no notice).

And how about their outsourcing habits? Well I spotted an ad from them on the WordPress job boards, offering $5 per page to build landing pages. Even if you cut and paste the layout with no other changes you’re looking at 20 minutes per page, which means they were offering roughly $15 per hour. I wrote them to tell them they need to increase their offer to $50/hr or better, as their current offer was insulting to all professional developers. The E-mail responses I got in response were incredibly hostile, let’s look at a few of them.

This one was interesting because he accuses me of being rude, after an uncalled for assault of hostility.

If you are not interested, just fuck off.

We have enough people interested.

Some people asked for 500 others asked for 50 some are doing it for 5

So, why don’t you get your head out of your ass and get over your
superiority complex and go fuck yourself or do something useful instead of
wasting my time with your stupidity and rudeness.

Here his raging tantrum increases in intensity

why dont you idiot read the email you sent me first time and see your
insults and shove them down your throat.
I dont want people to work for me for free, I want them to work for an
agreed on rate.. you are too dumb to understand that maybe because of the
air you breathing in whatever shit hole you live in.
if you dont like my behavior, fuck off and stop sending me emails.
people who are interested in working with me, they are doing it, but again
because you are a fucking arrogant scumbag you think you are better than
them, despite that your website is so shitty, you wont even qualify for a
$5 gig.
if it is after midnight, go to sleep, go watch tv, go work on your site, go
learn something…and stop wasting my time.
I know it makes you feel important because your life is that worthless and
pathetic, but..it wont get you anywhere,..so go do something useful with
your time.

Here is the actual contents of my first E-mail, do you see any insults? I don’t.

You are trying to take advantage of people and you should be ashamed. I hope that you meet with failure until you are willing to pay a reasonable salary for the work you’re asking for. You need to start at $50 per hour.

If you think that’s unfair, do the work yourself.

This one is interesting, his response has escalated from attacking me personally, to attacking my deceased mother or my imaginary sister. I think we can all agree that this sort of behavior is completely unacceptable for a grown adult. Again he acts like the victim as well, saying that I insulted him, but that never took place.

You again? You are like a rabid dog who won’t leave.
You are not a man, you are an asshole.
You sent me an email insulting me and my business and everyone who applied
for the job.
That’s an adult behavior? But replying to your insults is not?
I hope I m not giving you the idea that I give a damn about what you think
of me or my business, I just tried to be polite and give you the benefit of
the doubt, but obviously there is no reasoning with you,and you are not
reading my email or understanding them…just want to reply and spew your
poisonous bullying because it make your pathetic life more meaningful.
Just get your head out of your ass or out of your moms ass or out of your
dogs ass and fuck off and do something useful with your worthless time and
existence.

You should change your nickname from lion to a donkey, a very dumb donkey.

I replied to your insults with reasoning, with insulting you, your mom, and
your sister…unless they are prostitutes..so if you have any shred of
dignity and self respect, you would have fucked off already.

This is my favorite one. In this rant he accuses me of being part of ISIS and helping to kill people and destroy their houses, and talks about “digital threats”.

I don’t care…you see in 2006 israeli apartheid regime and terrorists
threatened to kill us and destroy our houses, and despite their war crimes
where they killed over a 1000 women and men and 300 child…we survived, we
did to cave to their threats and their war criminals went out crying after
being crushed along with their elite army units.
Your friends at isis threatened us and attacked us and killed many of
us..but eventually they were crushed and soon to be eliminated … so
digital threats from a coward bully like you are meaningless as much as
your existence.
Post them anywhere..but why don’t you post them with your real name, phone
number and address , don’t be a coward.
And send me the links..I might have few more minutes to spend dealing with
your bullying and stupidity..

Now you might think “How can we believe this stuff? It seems too insane to be true”. You would be right to be cautious, so for the sake of verification, here is an archive of most of the emails, including everything quoted here, and their respective E-mail headers including cryptographic DKIM signatures which can be used to verify the authenticity of these E-mails. sfg-media-emails.tar.gz

Conclusion: SFG Media Group are “Bad People”

You should decide for yourself, but if you ask me the evidence is overwhelming, these people are not the kind of people that anyone should want to work for or do business with. The marketplace is filled with honest and hard working people who pay decent wages and provide decent services, and most of them are fine places to work. SFG Media Group puts on a good front, but when you peel back the layers what you find is a loathing toward their fellow man, and behavior which nobody would ever tolerate. I hope you find this useful.

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small square painted on the sidewalk which reads "Designated free speech area"

Google fires employee for controversial memo

Preface

Wow @Google’s decision to fire someone for expressing their opinion on the internet has backfired. The fallout has been mostly very negative. Journalists and Bloggers have accused @Google of breaking labor laws, anti-American behavior, and stifling free expression and free thought. I think this shows that whatever social idealogy @Google may once have had, it has been crushed under the weight of their corporate greed. They must have had board meetings where they weighed the financial risks of tolerating the employee’s behavior, or firing the employee. Ethical standards have nothing to do with decisions like these when a corporation of Google’s size is in the crosshairs, the only thing that matters to them is money and their continued stability in the marketplace.

My opinion

I happen to agree in a narrow sense that diversity of thought and diversity of culture is probably what we should all be striving for. I am of the opinion that people should be hired and promoted based on merit alone, and never gender, or race, or any other “book cover” trait. Some board room decision that “We need at least 40% to 60% women in our top roles” is not a good way to staff an organization of any size or role. It limits your options and opens the door for unexpected breakdowns in the team.

The human race is not divided into genetically isolated groups competing with each other for dominance. It’s not Women vs Men vs Latinos vs Blacks vs Gays. There are humans who choose to live that way or they think that’s how it works, but they are either ignorant or stupid. You can certainly organize your culture into that kind of competition, but it would not be best for the species and it would have no basis in science or knowledge or intellect. You might wish that the world could be divided up in such ways, but Planet Earth and The Human Race do not exist to grant your fucking wishes. Life is what it is, reality is what it is, regardless of whether any one person or persons chooses to accept it.

man with tape over his mouth which reads 'freedom'Some women would not make good engineers. That is true. That doesn’t mean all women make poor engineers. Some men would make terrible engineers too. People are individuals with unique experiences which define much of their capabilities and competencies, as well as genetic factors which are not group-based but individual-based. I would suggest that any genetic differences would be minor and have the least noticable effect on workplace capability, especially when placed against educational and cultural differences which have huge impacts.

So it’s not right to say one group of people is genetically inferior to another, it’s also not right to say they’re all equal to another. There is only one “Human Race” on Planet earth, and you humans need to stop trying to re-define yourself in various sub-groups. There is The Human Species, and then there are individual Humans, and that’s as good as it’s ever going to get. The whole reason we have anti-discrimination laws is because science has shown there are no correlations between biological capabilities including intelligence, and group categories like gender, skin color, religion, sexuality, and so on.

It’s not because anti-discrimination laws make us feel better. Seriously nobody in power cares how anything makes any of you feel. Anti-discrimination laws exist to efficiently provide guidance for hundreds of millions of people. It takes too long to sit every person down and ensure they’ve been properly educated on the subject, so we have laws instead which are basically the society saying to every hill billy in the nation “Listen, trust us, gender and skin color have nothing to do with competence. Don’t discriminate”. It’s definitely not to make anyone feel better. If there were scientific evidence showing that specific groups of people were less capable than other groups, discrimination would be legal, with complete disregard for your feelings. People who craft and lead nations are not interested in your feelings. They’re thinking on a larger scale and in longer terms than any one lifetime.

In summary

If I were Google I’m not sure I’d have made a different decision. To them it’s not about ethics, it’s about reducing fallout. They believed that firing the guy would have the least damaging effect on their business in the long term. Time will tell if they got it right or wrong. That said, they probably shouldn’t have fired him. Sure the guy said a lot of things that are wrong. So what? He also expressed some ideas that had a twinkle of inspiration behind them. It’s better to have a conversation about these subjects, than to freak the fuck out and hang the bastard. What did he actually do besides write his ideas down? If people can be fired for expressing ideas, they will become afraid to express themselves, and that future isn’t good for anyone.

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