ITV News Correspondent Ian Woods reports from North London Coroners Court
A senior executive from social media giant Pinterest has apologised after admitting the site was “not safe” when schoolgirl Molly Russell used it.
The company’s head of community operations, Judson Hoffman, said he “deeply regrets” imagery viewed by the 14-year-old as he gave evidence from the witness box at North London Coroner’s Court on Thursday.
Mr Hoffman admitted emails sent to the teenager such as “10 depression pins you might like” was “the type of content that we wouldn’t like anyone spending a lot of time with”.
Mr Hoffman said that self-harm or suicide content that violates its policies “still likely exists on our platform” and conceded it is not as safe as it could be.
Molly, from Harrow, north-west London, ended her life in November 2017, prompting her family to campaign for better internet safety.
Pinterest describes itself as a “visual discovery engine for finding ideas”, where users can save the “pins” they see to their own “boards” – said in court to be akin to creating a collage.
The court was shown two streams of content the 14-year-old saw, comparing the material she viewed earlier in her use of the platform and in the months closer to her death.
While the earlier content included a wide variety of material, the latter focused on depression, self-harm and suicide.
Asked by Oliver Sanders KC, the lawyer representing Molly’s family, if he agreed that the type of content had changed, Mr Hoffman said: “I do and it’s important to note, and I deeply regret that she was able to access some of the content shown.”
Mr Sanders asked: “Are you sorry it happened?”
Mr Hoffman replied: “I am sorry it happened.”
Hoffman also agreed that the platform was not safe when Molly used it.
“Pinterest accepts that its platform should be safe for children?,” Mr Sanders asked him.
Mr Hoffman replied: “It should be safe for everyone on the platform.”
Mr Sanders continued: “And it accepts that in 2017, when Molly was on it, it wasn’t safe?”
“That’s correct," Mr Hoffman replied. "There was content that should have been removed that was not removed.
The senior executive said the technology available to the company now was “just not available to us” before Molly’s death.
The witness insisted the platform had not taken a “risky” option of allowing children to use it despite the possibility they may encounter harmful content.
The court heard Pinterest sent other emails to Molly with headings such as “depression recovery, depressed girl and more pins trending on Pinterest” and “new ideas for you in depression”.
Mr Hoffman was asked by Mr Sanders if he believed the images in the emails sent by the company were “safe for children to see”.
He replied: “I want to be careful here because of the guidance that we have seen.
“I will say that this is the type of content that we wouldn’t like anyone spending a lot of time with.”
Mr Sanders said “particularly children” would find it “very difficult… to make sense” of the content, to which Mr Hoffman replied: “Yes.”
Mr Hoffman admitted some images he was shown were ones he would “not show to my children”.
The inquest was told Molly made a number of boards on Pinterest, including two of interest to proceedings.
Mr Sanders said one board was called “stay strong”, which tended to “have more positive” material pinned to it, while the other board, with “much more downbeat, negative content”, was called “nothing to worry about”.
Earlier on Thursday, Molly’s father Ian Russell was taken through posts made by his daughter on Twitter where she approached celebrities and social media influencers for help.
Mr Russell told the inquest: “I believe social media helped kill my daughter.
“I believe that too much of that content is still there and I believe there is a lack of transparency.
“Children shouldn’t be on a platform that presents a risk to their lives.”
Mr Russell was shown some tweets from Molly to celebrities where his daughter said she “just can’t take it”.
One tweet sent to American actress Lili Reinhart said: “I can’t take it any more.
“I need to reach out to someone, I just can’t take it.”
Mr Russell said: “It’s exactly that type of message… that was particularly prevalent on Twitter.
“On the Twitter platform… she reached out to celebrities with thousands or millions of followers who wouldn’t even notice one small tweet from someone like Molly.
“She was never really going to get a response.”
Mr Russell told the court that harmful and “normal” online content would have been “conflated” in his daughter’s mind.
He said “digital technology can be brilliant”, but the difference between the two types of content “would be very much blurred” for Molly.
The inquest, due to last up to two weeks, continues.
Samaritans provides round the clock support for people when they need it most. You can call them 24 hours a day on 116 123. They also have tips if you're concerned about someone you know, and advice if you're struggling yourself
Young people who need support or have any concerns about what they have seen or heard during the inquest can contact Childline on 0800 1111 or via www.childline.org.uk
Adults concerned about a child or who needs advice about supporting a young person can contact the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 or via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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