Ahead of Pinterest’s fourth-quarter and 2023 earnings report this week, its CEO Bill Ready penned an op-ed in which he discussed social media companies’ increasingly crucial role in protecting children online and how artificial intelligence (A.I.) can be a double-edged sword in the issue.
“We are not perfect and don’t have all the answers. Like the rest of the industry, we have a long way to go. But it is my intention to make Pinterest a safe place for everyone—especially young people,” Ready wrote in an op-ed for The Hill published Jan. 31.
Ready’s opinion piece was run the same day the U.S. Senate summoned social media leaders like Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg and TikTok’s Shou Zi Chew to answer questions about child safety on social media platforms run by their companies. Ready, who did not testify that day, made an analogy between the hearing and the congressional hearing on tobacco in the 1990’s where industry executives argued cigarettes were not addictive.
“Their testimony was patently false, and a photo of their swearing-in became infamous,” Ready wrote. “Today, we must come to grips with a force as pernicious as the 20th century tobacco industry: a social media ecosystem that is as dangerously toxic as it is addictive, with young people being the most vulnerable.”
Though most social media companies like to tout A.I. innovations, Ready wrote about the harm the technology had done to Pinterest. He chronicled some of the issues the platform had while his team developed its A.I. model, specifically for child safety. This included an investigation by NBC News in March 2023 that found that Pinterest’s A.I.-powered algorithm was making it easy for adult men to create sexual image boards of young girls.
Ready outlined four solutions that he believes will help companies use A.I. to make the internet safer for children rather than it being a force for exploitation. His suggestions include using it for stricter content moderation, improving its relationship with product design, introducing special protections for teens, and calling for companies to be transparent about how they’re developing A.I., including the issues they run into.
Ready said Pinterest has taken a “leading position” on these measures through policies like making accounts for people under 16 years old private and by signing the Inspired Internet Pledge, where tech companies have come together to promote healthier online spaces for young people.
“As leaders, we must ask ourselves: Are we going to be more upset by negative press stories and being called to testify before Congress, or by the fact that young people are being harmed?” Ready wrote. “If the answer is the latter, then we must take accountability and come together to raise the bar on safety.”
Pinterest is set to report quarterly earnings on Feb. 8. The company’s recent financial results received a mention in Ready’s article, notably that Gen Z user engagement on the platform was up 20 percent in the June-September 2023 quarter from the previous year. Ready said that this is proof that social media companies can focus on positivity and still have success.