Pinterest ‘sorry’ Molly Russell was able to view online content linked to self-harm, inquest hears

Pinterest’s head of community operations has said he is “sorry” schoolgirl Molly Russell was able to view content relating to self-harm on the platform.

North London Coroners’ Court on Thursday 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 stream of content included a wide variety of material, the latter focused on depression, self-harm and suicide.

Molly, from Harrow, north-west London, was found dead in her bedroom in November 2017 after viewing online content that promoted self-harm.

She was an active user of Pinterest, with more than 15,000 engagements, including 3,000 saves, in the last six months of her life.

Since her death, Molly’s family have campaigned for better internet safety.

Judson Hoffman, head of Pinterest’s community operations, was asked by the lawyer representing Molly’s family at her inquest if he agreed 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 Oliver Sanders KC asked: “You’ve said you regret, are you sorry it happened?”

Mr Hoffman replied: “I am sorry it happened.”

Image:
Molly’s father Ian Russell

The court heard the social media giant sent emails to the teenager with headings such as “10 depression pins you might like” and “depression recovery, depressed girl and more pins trending on Pinterest”.

The emails also contained images. The family’s lawyer asked Mr Hoffman whether he believed they were “safe for children to see”.

Mr Hoffman replied: “So, 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 KC said “particularly children” would find it “very difficult… to make sense” of the material – to which Mr Hoffman replied: “Yes.”

Mr Hoffman said he was “not able to answer” how children could agree to potentially being exposed to content inappropriate for a child.

In the platform’s terms of service, displayed to the hearing, the court was told users were asked to report “bad stuff” if they saw it on the site.

The terms of service from November 2016 said users may be exposed to material that was “inappropriate to children”.

Mr Sanders KC asked: “Bearing in mind it might be children who are opening the account… when a user opens an account they have to agree there may be content that’s inappropriate for a child.

“If the user is a child, how can they agree to that?”

“I’m sorry, I’m not able to answer that,” Mr Hoffman said.

People over the age of 13 can use the platform and Coroner Andrew Walker asked if the firm distinguished between children and adults when accounts are set up.

“No, we do not,” Mr Hoffman replied.

On Wednesday, Molly’s father Ian Russell urged action at her inquest to “prevent such a young life being wasted again”.

“No one is immune from such tragedy, it is closer to all of us than we would care to think, and breaking the stigma that surrounds mental health, self-harm and suicide is literally vital,” he said.

The inquest continues.

Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org. Alternatively, letters can be mailed to: Freepost SAMARITANS LETTERS.

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