Pinterest Details Why It Blocks Some Searches

Pinterest's “extensive list of terms,” including variations, now helps the company block queries at the search level in hopes of protecting site visitors from misinformation and others who may want to do harm.

“If a search returns largely polluted results that violate our policies, we will stop serving the query, either temporarily or permanently,” a Pinterest spokesperson told Search Marketing Daily.

The Wall Street Journal broke the story on Wednesday.

This is a work in progress, the Pinterest spokesperson said. Blocking searches is one way the company enforces its community guidelines related to misinformation, but the solution is temporary, as it works with Storyful and other groups and health experts to identify keywords as well as the source to solve this problem.

The goal is to inspire site visitors, not harm them or mislead them with bad content about health and safety, the spokesperson said. The information can range from vaccines causing autism to conspiracy theories that the government wants to kill people. 

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Early findings indicate some of this content originates from sources with a commercial incentive, such as people selling products purporting to be miracle cures or potions. 

While many people typically search for recipes, style and home ideas, Pinterest will remove Pins, boards and accounts that violate its health misinformation policy as users report them to the company, which has been working for more than a year to identify and block websites of people or groups that explicitly affiliate themselves with health misinformation.

After identifying the misinformation, Pinterest began blocking certain searches related to vaccinations and cancer cures in 2018, not because it wanted to deter people from coming to the site to search for information, but rather because the results were leading to harmful misinformation. 

Misinformation remains a major problem for search engines because it is relatively easy to get website pages indexed by Google and Bing bots and served up online.

Social sites like Pinterest and Facebook that have added search capabilities have become similar targets, mainly because of the amount of people who are accessing and sharing the content on their platforms.

“We regularly update our list as we find new terms and phrases that lead to harmful results, and we block terms and phrases that are reported to us after we evaluate them,” the Pinterest spokesperson said.

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