A senior employee at Pinterest has told an inquest he “deeply regrets” that Molly Russell was able to access graphic material on the image-sharing platform before her death.
An inquest into the 14-year-old’s death heard how the teenager saw several images of self-harm on Pinterest and was sent emails by the service recommending depression-related content.
Molly, from Harrow, north-west London, killed herself in November 2017 after viewing a significant amount of online content on social media related to depression, suicide, self-harm and anxiety.
Coroner’s Court in North London heard evidence on Thursday from Jud Hoffman, Pinterest’s head of community operations, which was taken through the last 100 “pins” or posts seen by Molly before she died. The material Molly saw included graphic images of self-harm and references to depression and death.
Hoffman said: “It is important to note that I deeply regret that she was able to access some of the content that was shown.”
Asked by Oliver Sanders KC, the barrister representing Molly’s family, if he was sorry it had happened, Hoffman said: “I’m sorry it happened.”
Hoffman admitted that recommendation emails sent by Pinterest to the teenager, such as “10 depression pins you might like” contained “the type of content that we didn’t want anyone spending a lot of time with”.
US-based Hoffman had been ordered to attend in person by coroner Andrew Walker.
The top executive said the technology available to the company now to moderate content “just wasn’t available to us” before Molly’s death.
The investigation was shown Pinterest guidelines for the platform at the time, which recommended the removal of content that promoted self-harm, while “triggering” or “disturbing” content should be reduced or hidden. One of the images of self-harm that Molly saw before her death appeared on an internal Pinterest slide deck explaining guidelines for dealing with self-harming content
Sanders said that “children especially” would find it “very difficult … to make sense” of the content seen by Molly, to which Hoffman replied, “Yes.” Hoffman admitted that some images he was shown were ones he “wouldn’t show to my kids”.
The investigation was told Molly made a number of boards on Pinterest, including two of interest in the case.
Sanders said one board was called “stay strong,” which tended to “have more positive” material about recovery pinned to it, while the other board, with “much more downbeat, negative content,” was called ” nothing to worry about”.
Asked if the content Molly has seen would be removed now under Pinterest guidelines, Hoffman said “some” of it would be.
Asked if a photo seen in May 2017 that contained wording suggesting suicide should have been removed, Hoffman said: “I think so, yes.”
Earlier on Thursday, Molly’s father, Ian Russell, 59, was taken through posts by his daughter on Twitter, where she turned to celebrities and social media influencers for help. Russell described how his teenager “called into the void” by seeking help on Twitter.
Salice Rose, an influencer who has discussed her experience of depression online, was one of those Molly tried to contact.
Russell said it was a “danger” for people like Molly to seek support from well-meaning influencers who could not offer specialist support.
On Thursday morning he also told the inquest: “I believe social media helped kill my daughter. I believe there is still too much of that content and I believe there is a lack of transparency.
“Children should not be on a platform that poses a risk to their lives.”
The investigation continues.