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Thursday, June 19, 2008 - 9:20am

Keeping Our Kids Safe: GPB Explores Cybersafety Issues and Gang Activity in Georgia

Air Tuesday, June 24

Local Law Enforcement and Cybersafety Experts Will Staff GPB Phonebank and Take Viewers Calls Throughout the Evening of Programming.

GPB highlights two important topics impacting Georgia’s youth during a special night of programming – “Keeping Our Kids Safe: GPB Explores Cybersafety Issues and Gang Activity in Georgia” – on Tuesday, June 24. The evening begins at 9 PM with "Growing Up Online," a riveting documentary from the ground-breaking PBS public affairs series Frontline. Next at 10 PM, GPB’s David Zelski, who served as writer and producer for GPB’s award-winning documentary The Georgia Meth Invasion, examines the proliferation of gangs in Georgia in the new GPB Original Production Growing Up With Gangs.

GPB has assembled a phonebank of cybersafety experts and law enforcement officials who will take calls in the GPB Studio during the evening of programming on Tuesday, June 24, including representatives from the Georgia Department of Education, the Georgia Gang Investigators Association and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. Viewers who want more information can speak with experts beginning at 9 PM on Tuesday, June 24 by calling 1.888.685.2815. (Please note that the phone line will not be activated until this time).

"Growing Up Online," takes viewers inside the private worlds that kids are creating online, raising important questions about just how radically the Internet is transforming the experience of childhood. As more and more kids begin to grow up online, parents are finding themselves on the outside looking in, struggling to remain relevant and engaged in their kids' lives.

The point is illustrated in the program by the story of Jessica Hunter, a shy and awkward girl who struggled to make friends at school. At age 14, she reinvented herself online as "Autumn Edows," an alternative goth artist and model who posted provocative photos of herself on the Web and fast developed a cult following. News of Hunter's growing fame as Autumn Edows reached her parents only by accident.

"I got a phone call, and the principal says one of the parents had seen disturbing photographs and material of Jessica," her father tells Fronltine. "They were considered to be pornographic... I had no idea what she was doing on the Internet. That was a big surprise."

Fear of online predators has become a major concern for parents and teachers. "Growing Up Online" examines the findings of a major government report about the solicitation of kids online. The program also discusses the use of social networking sites where, for example, kids with eating disorders share tips about staying thin, and depressed kids share information about the best ways to commit suicide. "Growing Up Online" also spotlights the phenomenon of "cyberbullying," in which the taunts, insults and rumors once left at school now find their way on to the Internet.

"You have a generation faced with a society with fundamentally different properties, thanks to the Internet," Danah Boyd, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School tells Frontline. "We can turn our backs and say, 'This is bad' or 'We don't want a world like this.' It’s not going away. So instead of saying that this is terrible, instead of saying, 'Stop MySpace; stop Facebook; stop the Internet,' it's a question for us of how we teach ourselves and our children to live in a society where these properties are fundamentally a way of life. This is public life today."

As Frontline's "Growing Up Online" illustrates, the Internet plays a major influence on today’s youth in an often troubling manner, but there is another threat lurking in the streets and in our schools – the danger of gangs. According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice, there are at least 750,000 gang members in the United States, with more than 15,000 of them in Georgia. GPB’s newest original production, Growing Up With Gangs, delves into the question of why children join gangs, what inspires them, and how cyberspace has expanded gang exposure and access. In addition, the program also examines the migration of gangs in Georgia from other parts of the country and what local and federal officials are doing to tackle the issue.

"Parents who think there is no gang presence around their schools, even if they are upscale schools, really need to understand there is a risk because the gangs are out there and they are actively recruiting," says David Nahmias, U.S. Attorney for the Northeast District of Georgia.

As Growing Up With Gangs reports, gang-related home invasions, carjackings and murders have been reported from Southwest Georgia in the Albany area, east towards Augusta and scattered along rural towns all the way to the coast. In response, law enforcement agencies across the state have stepped up their efforts to stamp out gangs.

"We’ve established six safe street task forces here in the state of Georgia," says FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Howard Hatfield. "They include over 20 local and state law enforcement agencies that work with us to combat violent crime."

Detective Marco Silva, president of the Georgia Gang Investigators Association and a former "Latin King" in Chicago, explains in Growing Up With Gangs that he has now dedicated his life to protecting children from making the same decision that he did to join a gang. "Usually between the age of 10 to 14 is when they start trying to recruit. Being involved with gangs myself for 10 years, I see how it actually nearly ruined my life."

Art Powell, another former gang member who spent 11 years in prison, has joined forces with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and the Douglasville Police Department to form a youth against violence class. Powell knows that there are many different factors that can lead to kids joining gangs, and he feels very strongly about the influence of the media. "Thugs, gangsters and hustlers in the street are the new role models of the day… not the basketball players… not the lawyers," Powell says. "Magazines, sitcoms, commercials, music, everything pretty much promotes or advocates this gangster image, and it’s acceptable in society. So you can’t help but look at the results you’re seeing. What the media projects – that’s what it is."

Powell’s insight as a former gang member gives him an advantage with youth. "I’m a product of what they are trying to become and I look at the mentality and basically, you have to deprogram the way they think."

Be sure to tune in for "Keeping Our Kids Safe: GPB Explores Cybersafety Issues and Gang Activity in Georgia" – on Tuesday, June 24 beginning at 9 PM with Frontline’s "Growing Up Online," and followed at 10 PM with Growing Up With Gangs.

Georgia Public Broadcasting is Television, Radio and Education
: your PBS station serving all of Georgia; your source for great music and NPR news; and Georgia's source for top-quality multiple media educational products and services.

Watch Georgia Public Broadcasting on these nine stations across Georgia: Atlanta – Channel 8; Albany - WABW/14, Augusta - WCES/20, Chatsworth - WCLP/18, Columbus - WJSP/28, Dawson - WACS/25, Macon - WMUM/29, Savannah - WVAN/9, Waycross - WXGA/8.

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