Two senators pressured Pinterest Tuesday to explain what it’s doing to protect children from pedophiles after reports that sexual predators are using the social media platform to target young users.
While Pinterest has told congressional staffers it has content-reporting mechanisms and age-assurance practices to protect kids, it isn’t living up to its high-minded goals, according to Sens. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, and Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican.
The bipartisan duo wrote to Pinterest CEO Bill Ready with concerns about an NBC News report saying men created sex-themed image boards of little girls on Pinterest, which was inadvertently curating content for the pedophiles.
Pinterest is a self-described “visual discovery engine” for finding ideas that people use to share and collect images about things such as recipes, home decorations, and style inspiration, according to the company’s website.
“While Pinterest has taken steps to address several of the issues identified in NBC News’ report, it should not have taken national media coverage of such graphic misuse targeting young children to prompt action,” the senators wrote. “We encourage Pinterest to live up to its ideal as the positive corner of the internet, and to support legislation such as the Kids Online Safety Act.”
The senators questioned Pinterest about its content moderation practices, including how it identifies and removes sexually suggestive content of minors and whether such content moderation is conducted in-house or performed by a contractor.
Pinterest did not immediately respond to request for comment on Tuesday. The company previously told NBC it had a zero-tolerance policy for content that exploits or endangers minors and Pinterest said it deleted sexually suggestive image boards of otherwise innocuous images and removed the users who created them.
Mr. Blumenthal and Ms. Blackburn have spearheaded legislative efforts to address digital dangers to kids. The senators pushed the Kids Online Safety Act last year to require social media platforms to prevent and mitigate harm to children and allow people to opt out of algorithmic recommendations.
The legislation advanced through the Senate Commerce Committee last year but failed to become law.
The appetite for cracking down on threats to kids online looks to have only since grown among senators, however. For example, Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in February that lawmakers looked to be working on more bills about digital harm to kids than any other subject matter.
Mr. Graham said then he was working with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, on a new proposal that approached the issue from a consumer protection perspective.
Pinterest is far from the only platform in lawmakers’ crosshairs. Mr. Blumenthal and Ms. Blackburn held a series of hearings with tech executives in 2021 about the dangers facing children online, soliciting testimony from representatives at Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok.
The Senate Judiciary Committee appears poised to bring tech company representatives back before Congress in 2023. The committee held a hearing about protecting kids online in February, and its chairman, Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois said then that tech companies would be invited to participate in the future.