NBC News has discovered that Pinterest's recommendation algorithms are making it easier for pedophiles to create boards full of images of underage girls. After an initial search, Pinterest will start suggesting related searches that can easily be misused. The images themselves sometimes receive sexual comments.
NBC notes that it didn't find child sexual abuse material (CSAM) during its investigation. However, the people creating the creepy boards sometimes had collections containing porn despite Pinterest's ban on that content. The social site also hasn't had direct ways to report attempts to sexualize content featuring minors. While Pinterest’s policies forbid the practice, users have had to rely on ill-fitting reporting categories (such as “nudity or pornography”) and haven’t had the option to report whole boards.
Pinterest tells Engadget that it takes this content "very seriously" and is taking multiple actions that could help. It will start rolling out a board reporting option next week, and will soon offer expanded profile reporting tools that include minor-related content. In a response to NBC, spokesperson Crystal Espinosa says the company also plans to bolster its AI moderation (it also uses human moderators) to catch some offenders automatically, and will add new age verification systems.
The revelations are significant in part because of Pinterest's aggressive stance toward moderation compared to other platforms — it's one of the few to place outright bans on misinformation. At the same time, the findings underscore shortcomings in the company's reporting tools and recommendation engine. Facebook, Instagram and TikTok all have ways to directly report content involving kids.
There's political pressure to act, too. President Biden recently called for Congress and tech giants to improve kids' online safety. The Senate's Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, held a hearing echoing those calls. Pinterest isn't in immediate danger of a regulatory crackdown (it's legal to create these collections), but it's also not guaranteed to avoid scrutiny.