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Why Pinterest can't escape the curse of flame wars

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Your picture of the typical Pinterest user is probably a woman who posts pictures of gorgeous objects on her pinboard with little or no commentary. But almost any Web community that allows for discussion can find itself playing host to political thrashes—and the fast-growing image board is no exception.

A couple hundred pinners found out exactly that after one made a “modest proposal” about testing dangerous chemicals on human prisoners instead of animals.

It started normally enough when user FeeFee,RN pinned a simple visual message—“Say ‘NO!’ to animal testing”—to her Animal Rights pinboard. Since FeeFee,RN has 341,593 followers, the pin got much more attention than usual.

The first ten or so comments praised the pin’s message. Then Sherri Waters, who goes by lawyerswife on Pinterest, made her more controversial opinion known:

“Use murderers, child molesters and rapist. They should pay something positive to society. Animals don't deserve to be used.”

From there, the comment thread exploded into hundreds of comments, likes, and repins. Some came out in support of Waters’s proposal, while others vehemently attacked it. Throughout it all, Waters continued to fuel the fire by responding to every naysayer.

One commenter, Alyssa Ira, observed that this was not her typical Pinterest fare.

“I thought this was Pinterest, not an ethics/political debate forum ... I'm not fond of animal testing, but can see the other side of the argument. Agree to disagree maybe?” she wrote.

The entire dramatic episode eventually made it to WTF, Pinterest?, a blog which is to Pinterest as Regretsy is to Etsy. It follows closely behind an earlier exchange on the social network about a curse word in an image macro which scandalized parents concerned about their teens viewing it.

For those hoping to find an escape from the unruly comment threads that plague other Web communities, these episodes don’t paint a pretty picture of Pinterest.