Facebook has banned an advertiser that used an image of deceased bullying victim Rehtaeh Parsons in an ad for its online dating website.
On Tuesday, Facebook Canada spokesperson Meg Sinclair confirmed that online dating service ionechat.com has been permanently banned from the social network as an advertiser.
The website itself has now been deleted.
The move came after a Facebook user contacted the company to notify them about the ad, which included the headline “Find Love in Canada!” over a photo of the teenager who died in April after a suicide attempt at her home in Dartmouth, N.S. Rehtaeh Parsons’ mother has spoken publicly about the bullying her daughter faced, including photographs posted online of an alleged sexual assault against her.
Two 18-year old men face child pornography charges connected to the case.
The ad prompted negative reactions on Twitter from people who called the ads “tasteless” and “terrible.”
In an email, Rehtaeh Parsons’ father, Glen Canning, said he had heard the advertiser had been banned. “I am happy with that but still very upset this happened,” he said.
Media reports on Tuesday inaccurately said that the Facebook ads were a result of Facebook’s system of “social context” advertising. This allows advertisers to use real people’s photographs in ads delivered to their friends. For example, if a person named Mary likes a TV show, her friends may see an ad telling them about it; it’s an attempt by Facebook to personalize the ad.
However, spokesperson Meg Sinclair said in an interview that this was not an example of a Sponsored Story or Social Context ad. Rehtaeh Parsons no longer has a Facebook profile page, though there are some tribute pages to her.
“Someone could screen shot it from anywhere,” Ms. Sinclair said. The image use was not the result of any algorithm around social context ads.
In an email, the website’s owner, Anh Dung, explained that he used a tool to “scrape” (i.e. copy and paste) images from Google searches for the Facebook campaign, and said that he did not know what had happened to Rehtaeh Parsons when it was used. Mr. Dung added that he has no comment about Facebook’s decision to ban his account.
“I’m so stressed right now. I received many emails from reporters and people,” he wrote. “I try my best to answer fully and clearly, I expect people to understand and sympathise with my mistake.”
Before its account was deleted, ionechat.com was using Facebook’s self-serve ad tool. Facebook has not been in direct contact with Mr. Dung.
Facebook has specific policies prohibiting the mockery of victims of violent crimes, and this ad violated that policy, Ms. Sinclair explained. All the ads have been deleted.
It is possible to use images of public figures on a Facebook page, but the company also prohibits using images of public figures who were victims of bullying or violent crimes, she added.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the ownership of ionechat.com. While an earlier search suggested a connection to a European company, that search cannot be confirmed because the site ionechat.com has been deleted. In addition, other domain searches suggest ionechat.com was owned by Dung Nguyen, based in Vietnam.