Boss admits Pinterest is ‘not sure’ when Molly Russell used the site before ending her life

A senior executive at social media giant Pinterest has apologized as he admitted the site was ‘not safe’ when schoolgirl Molly Russell used it.

The company’s community operations manager, Judson Hoffman, told the North London Coroner’s Court that self-harm or suicide content that breaches its policies “probably still exists on our platform” and admitted that he wasn’t as sure as he could be.

Mr Hoffman said he “deeply regrets” the posts Molly viewed on Pinterest before her death, saying it was material he “wouldn’t show my children”.

Judson Hoffman is global head of community operations at Pinterest (James Manning/PA)

The 14-year-old, from Harrow, north-west London, ended her life in November 2017, prompting her family to campaign for better internet safety.

On Thursday, Mr Hoffman received emails sent to Molly such as “10 Depression Pins You Might Like”, which the witness said contained “the type of content we wouldn’t want anyone to spend a lot of time with. time”.

Pinterest describes itself as a “visual discovery engine for finding ideas” where users can save the “pins” they see to their own “boards” – which, in court, is akin to creating a bonding.

Mr Hoffman said the platform was “safe but flawed” as he admitted harmful content “probably exists” on the site.

The senior executive said recent searches for ‘suicidal quotes’, a term used by Molly, turned up content he believes should have been removed.

He told the court it was a “mistake” that the material was not removed because the phrase should have been among the banned search terms.

Molly Russell Investigation

Molly Russell’s father, Ian Russell, arrives at Barnet Coroner’s Court (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Mr Hoffman said: “Content that violates our policies likely still exists on our platform.

“It’s safe but imperfect and we strive every day to make it safer and safer.”

Coroner Andrew Walker asked: ‘It’s not as safe as it could be?’

Mr. Hoffman replied: “Yes, because it could be perfect.”

Oliver Sanders KC, representing the teenager’s family, asked: “Pinterest agrees that its platform is safe for children?”

Mr Hoffman replied: “It should be safe for everyone on the platform.”

Mr Sanders continued: ‘And he accepts that in 2017 when Molly was on it, it wasn’t safe?

Mr Hoffman replied: ‘That’s right, there was content that should have been removed that was not removed.’

Giving evidence from the witness box, the senior executive was taken through a slew of ‘disturbing’ images Molly had interacted with on the site relating to self-harm, suicide and depression.

The court saw two streams of content the teenager saw, comparing material she saw earlier in her use of the platform and in the months leading up to her death.

While the previous content included a wide variety of material, the second focused on depression, self-harm, and suicide.

Asked by Mr Sanders if he agreed that the type of content had changed, Mr Hoffman replied: “I do and it is important to note, and I deeply regret that she could access some of the displayed content.”

Mr Sanders asked: ‘Are you sorry this happened?’

Mr. Hoffman replied: “I’m sorry that happened.”

The witness insisted the platform had not taken the “risky” option of allowing children to use it despite the possibility of them encountering harmful content.

The court heard how Pinterest uses artificial intelligence and human moderators to hide or remove content related to self-harm and suicide.

The system has been largely successful, but users may still encounter such content, the survey said.

Mr Sanders suggested to Mr Hoffman that the site had “chose to take risks” when there was a “risk-free option” of not allowing children on Pinterest.

Mr Hoffman replied: ‘I would say I chose an option other than absolutely no risk, I wouldn’t say a risky option…obviously our intention is to reduce the risk.’

The senior executive said the technology available to the business was “just not available to us” before Molly died.

The court heard that Pinterest sent Molly other emails with titles such as “depression recovery, depressed girl and more trending pins on Pinterest” and “new ideas for you in depression.”

Mr Hoffman was asked by Mr Sanders if he thought the images in the emails sent by the company were “safe for children”.

He replied, “I want to be careful here because of the advice we’ve seen.

“I will say that’s the type of content that we wouldn’t want anyone to spend a lot of time with.”

The inquest was told that Molly had created a number of boards on Pinterest, two of which were of interest in the proceedings.

Mr Sanders said one board was called ‘stay strong’, which tended to ‘have more positive content’ pinned on it, while the other board, with ‘much more negative and negative content’, was called “nothing to worry about”.

The investigation, which is expected to last up to two weeks, is continuing.

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