Children able to access porn -- on Pinterest

Local mom demands changes to popular idea-sharing app

By Mike DeForest - Investigative Reporter

Pinterest -- the popular online app typically used to share ideas about fashion, cooking and home decorating -- also contains numerous pornographic images in violation of the company's policies, a News 6 investigation has found.

Under Pinterest's rules, children as young as 13 are allowed to use the service. 

"In my opinion, Pinterest is a pornography website," said Stephanie, a Central Florida mother who said her 13-year-old son discovered explicit sexual images on the app. 

News 6 has agreed to withhold Stephanie's last name to protect the privacy of her children.

"If (Pinterest) is going to claim that they're safe for minors, they need to be safe for minors," Stephanie said.  "And if they don't want to do that, if they don't want to give up the porn, they need to raise the age to the adult age."

"Pinterest is an app to help you discover and do the things you love, such as new recipes or home decor ideas," a company spokesperson told News 6.  "We are committed to creating a positive environment, and encourage any user who finds content that violates our policies to report it to our team."

Stephanie said she has repeatedly notified the company about pornographic images.

"When I report one, it seems like there's five to 12 to 100 new ones that pop up," she said.

Mother installed Pinterest on children's devices

Stephanie joined Pinterest years ago at the recommendation of her friends. The mother of two said she later downloaded the app on her children's computer devices to help them find easy dinner recipes.

"I wanted to teach them how to cook, so I decided these recipes on here are easy and make it kind of fun," she said.

Under Pinterest's terms of service, use by anyone younger than 13 is not allowed. Apple's App Store states that Pinterest is rated for ages 12 and older.

"I checked the age requirement for the app," Stephanie said.  "I would not have downloaded it if (my children) were not of the age recommended."

Stephanie said she and her husband do not allow their children to use social media sites including Facebook and Twitter and have activated parental controls on the family's internet devices, in part to prevent her children from stumbling upon pornography.

"It snuck into my house despite all that I've done to try to keep it out," Stephanie said.

13-year-old boy finds pornography on Pinterest

Stephanie told News 6 she received a phone call from her then-13-year-old son last year while he was attending a sleepaway summer camp. During one of the camp activities, someone in the group talked about their personal struggle with pornography, she said, prompting her son to disclose his recent encounters with adult materials.

"My son felt so bad, ashamed, guilty, embarrassed. He knew it was wrong," she said.

According to Stephanie, her son said he was using Pinterest to look for posts about video games, called "pins," when he discovered another user had posted explicit images. Clicking on "pins" generally leads users to similar images.

"(It took me) 20 seconds to find full blown pornography. It was right there. Instantly," Stephanie said. "My heart hurt very badly because I was thinking this is what my son may have seen."

'Some nudity is OK for Pinterest, some isn't'

When a News 6 reporter created a new Pinterest account and entered keywords such as "sex" and "naked girls," dozens of explicit photos and video clips filled the screen that appeared to violate Pinterest's policy, along with links to external pornographic websites.

Those same searches also revealed images that were likely in compliance with the company's rules.

According to the app's community guidelines, "some nudity is okay for Pinterest, some isn't." 

Under the company's rules, "artistic, scientific or educational nudity" may be allowed on the site.

"We always remove images of explicit sexual activity or fetishes, and nude or partially nude people in sexually suggestive poses," the website states.

Extended interview: Sexologist Dr. Anne Rothenberg talks about children encountering pornography

As examples of acceptable nudity, Pinterest's website includes a painting of a nude man and a black and white photo of the late Beatles singer John Lennon standing fully naked alongside his widow, Yoko Ono.

"Lennon and Ono are not posing suggestively, so it's okay," a caption under the photo reads.

Stephanie told News 6 many of the images she viewed on Pinterest were in violation of their policy.

"What I saw would go way beyond 'sexually suggestive poses,'" she said.

According to a Pinterest spokesperson, the company relies on a combination of user reports and internal techniques to proactively monitor and remove content that violates its policies. Such images can be blocked from being uploaded in the future.

When the company becomes aware of an internet domain that hosts pornography, including new ones that can appear every day, Pinterest can block that site from saving content on the app, according to a spokesperson.

"They need to change something," said Stephanie, who claims Pinterest has made her job as a parent much harder. 

"(By speaking out publicly), I'm hoping it sends a strong message to Pinterest and hopefully other companies who are tricking us into believing these apps are safe for kids," she said.

Porn can lead to problems for children, expert says

Dr. Anne Rothenberg, a mental health counselor and clinical sexologist, said it is normal for adolescents to be curious about pornography.

"It's important where they learn the correct information from," Rothenberg told News 6.  "Their brains are very malleable at that point, and they are making connections to certain things that will be with them, perhaps for a lifetime."

Rothenberg said pornography can create a pleasant chemical response in an adolescent's body, but warns that it can also have potentially harmful social and psychological effects.

"It gives them an unrealistic expectation about sexuality and relationships," Rothenberg said. "They could also have body image issues or they may think a partner they want to go with should look like a porn star."

Viewing pornography can also be an isolating experience and can lead to guilt and shame, the counselor believes.

When an adolescent stumbles upon pornography on mainstream websites such as Pinterest, Rothenberg said it may encourage them to seek out more images and videos.

"You want that dopamine rush again, so you keep looking, and it becomes riskier and riskier," she said. "They will start to look for (a) way around the parental blocks to be able to see some of this."

The counselor encourages parents to talk to their children about pornography and acknowledge their curiosity.

"(Tell them) don't feel bad about letting us know that you found it somewhere," she recommends.  "A lot of kids will come forward and say, 'I looked at this'.  And then you can deal with what they're watching before it becomes a six-month or yearlong habit."
 

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