22 September 2022

Pinterest executive ‘deeply regrets’ content viewed by Molly Russell

22 September 2022

A senior executive from social media giant Pinterest has told an inquest he “deeply regrets” and is “sorry” for content viewed by schoolgirl Molly Russell on the site before her death.

Judson Hoffman, the company’s head of community operations, 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”.

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

Giving evidence from the witness box at North London Coroner’s Court on Thursday, Mr Hoffman was taken through a vast number of “disturbing” images Molly had interacted with on the site relating to self-harm, suicide and depression.

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.

This is the type of content that we wouldn’t like anyone spending a lot of time with

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.”

The senior executive said the technology available to the company now was “just not available to us” before Molly’s death.

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”.

Ian Russell told the inquest he believes social media ‘helped kill my daughter’ (PA) (PA Wire)

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.

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