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Team forms to push online safety

JACKSON — Attorney General Jim Hood, Comcast Corp. and the Internet Keep Safe Coalition (iKeepSafe) have joined forces to encourage Mississippi families to make the right choices when it comes to online safety.

In a press conference on Monday, Comcast representatives previewed a free educational video that they have produced and made available “on demand” to their digital cable customers. The video explored the risks associated with the Internet, and will give parents and guardians tips on how to become more involved and take action to protect their children online.

Ninety-nine percent of teens use the Internet according to statistics provided by the iKeepSafe partnership, an online safety coalition of governors and their spouses and groups ranging from the FBI to the American Medical Association. 54 percent of these teens admit to having private conversations with online “cyber strangers” and that 27 percent of these conversations have been about sex.

“Kids live their lives out on the Internet. They don’t hang out at the pool hall or wherever we did when we were kids,” said Attorney General Hood. “It’s so central to their lives and parents don’t understand what they’re capable of doing. They are behind the kids in the technology development.”

Hood said that education is key and that teachers and mothers can go online and read the attorney general’s Internet safety guide while the Comcast video will hopefully encourage fathers to spend time with their children and to help them out when they surf the Internet.

“It is my hope that parents will tap into this valuable resource and arm themselves with the knowledge they need to fully protect their children,” Hood said.

With more than 46 million cable, high-speed Internet and digital phone customers, Comcast said the company has a responsibility to ensure that customers who are parents have the security information they need to protect their families.

“We take online security very seriously,” said Comcast spokeswoman Francis Smith. “Through this partnership, Comcast is taking the next step to solidify our commitment to educate customers on Internet safety.”

While millions of teens face possible sexual abuse and other forms of harassment from cyber predators and bullies, older kids are not immune to the dark side of the Internet. College students who post sensitive personal information online are vulnerable to identity theft while others who use their computers or phones to text or post pictures of obscene or illegal activities (called “sexting”) can face criminal prosecution. Many of these self-inflicted multimedia wounds often wind up on public social networking web sites like Facebook or MySpace, costing the student everything from jobs to scholarships to healthy relationships with their peers.

Hood said that thanks to recent advances in Internet technology, his office is now able to identify the origin and transfer history of many child pornographic images “better than DNA,” images that often include training videos or manuals on how to disguise abuse and manipulate victims and their families. “The Internet is kind of like the Wild West right now,” Hood said. “There are a group of AG’s and companies that are working together to try and come to some middle ground on how we can better police the Internet. It takes companies working together with law enforcement to get parents and kids attention.”

Smith said that children will soon be out of school for the holidays and that Comcast wants them to have safe but fulfilling experiences online. “Parents can easily be overwhelmed by technology. We want to ensure them that they don’t have to be computer experts to keep their kids safe online but to simply start to understand what their children are doing.”

The Comcast video will also be available to Comcast customers on Channel 888. It will also be posted on the attorney general’s website, www.agjimhood.com. For more information about the Internet Keep Safe Coalition, visit www.ikeepsafe.org.

About Stephen McDill

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