Have you all heard of Pinterest? It's the hottest new social network for sharing your favorite cookie recipes and pictures of expensive furniture. But a barely risque post by a Pinterest power user has torn the burgeoning community apart.
Pinterest is a visual social bookmarking site that describes itself as a "virtual pinboard" where users "organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web". You create themed boards, on which you "pin" pictures of things you like related to the theme. You might have a board called "Kitchen," where you pin all the different kitchen gadgets you want to buy. Other people can browse your boards and marvel in your excellent taste, and you can silently judge theirs.
Pinterest is blowing up. In December, it became one of the top 10 social networks. Large swaths of women in their 20s and 30s are addicted to Pinterest, and it's been hailed as a savior by online retailers.
With any new social network or online community, I like to find where the controversy is. While not representative, these edge-cases can tell you more about the make-up of and values of a site than any traffic stats. Luckily, the proprietor of the blog WTF, Pinterest saw my tweeted request for guidance to the dark heart of Pinterest, and steered me toward what may be the first notable Pinterest scandal.
In addition to collecting wildlife photos and planning weddings, a popular use for Pinterest is sharing funny images, and that's where the trouble began. A few weeks ago, Pinterest power user Anilu Magloire—she has over 300,000 followers—pinned this picture of a kid jumping a plastic car with the words "FUCK YEAH" superimposed on it. It's beyond mild by the Internet's standard, but it sparked an epic flame war on Pinterest—alternating between outraged parents, and Pinterest users outraged by their outrage.
Susan: Could you keep the language clean? Thanks.
Missy: I agree Susan!
Alaythea: Are ya'll serious?! It's a joke, it's funny! Lighten up!
Marion: not appropriate at all
Jennifer: llighten up? i can tell you don't have kids and certainly not teenage girls who love to get on pinterest and see interesting things. it isn't just about you if you post things for others to see. i will not follow you any more which is a shame because i loved your stuff.
Shellia: THIS IS SO NOT APPROPRIATE, I JUST INVITED MY DAUGHTER-IN-LAWS AND A FRIEND PLEASE STOP THIS OR YOU ARE GOING TO MISS A LOT OF VIEWERS!!!!!!
Sarah: Wow, some of u people should take a chill pill, it's a funny picture and it's just words. It's not like she's being a bigot or putting someone down. Geesh
Shellia: NOT A FUNNY JOKE MY 7 YEAR OLD GRANDDAUGHTER COULD BE LOOKING AT THIS!!!
Kelcy: Are you guys serious? There is a single curse word, on a site I don't think children have access to. The joke itself is encouraging fun! It's not like she made this image first of all, second of all unfollow her if you don't like it! No need to cry about it.
Caitie: I hate to break it to you but all of your teenager who are on Pinterest have heard this word before. She's right, you guys do need to lighten up. They won't be kids forever! Being a helicopter parent will only make it worse.
Debra: I know lots of young people on here - keep it clean
This continues for another 360 or so comments, and for all I can tell the battle still rages: pleas for moderators to delete it, lots of delighted onlookers stoking the flames—"wow...the first real dose of pinterest drama! nice job!"—long philosophical digressions on parenting, etc. etc. The thread is weirdly compelling, probably because the stakes are so incredibly low even by internet standards.
So what does this say about Pinterest? Pinterest's crazy success rests in large part on how its clean, consumer-friendly image has attracted a large base of users who might not be traditional early adopters of technology. (Pinterest's first rule is "be nice.") But how will Pinterest cope with the inborn crudeness of the web, as more people flock from the porn-strewn wastelands of Tumblr and Twitter, with their edgy memes and swear words? It's the opposite problem faced by most social media companies, which start with hardcore tech geeks and have to figure out how to attract a more mainstream user base. Stay tuned.