Facebook apologized Tuesday after a dating advertisement that featured the photo of a teen who committed suicide was published on its site.
The case of Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17 year old from Canada, was widely reported in the news in recent months after she took her own life. Her parents claim she was cyberbullied for months after an alleged sexual assault. Two teens have since been charged in the case with distributing child pornography and are expected to appear in court to enter pleas in September.
An online advertisement for ionechat.com that read “Find Love in Canada!” featured a photo of Parsons that has been widely seen in news reports, according to BBC News, which posted a screen shot of the ad.
Parson’s father posted a message to his blog, saying “I am completely bewildered and disgusted by this. This is my daughter, Rehtaeh. They have her in an ad for meeting singles. I don’t even know what to say.” (The post must be experiencing heavy traffic, as it is intermittently unavailable).
A Toronto copy writer alerted Facebook to the advertisement and it was later removed, according to The Canadian Press (via Huffington Post Canada).
A Facebook spokesperson issued the following statement late Tuesday, per The Canadian Press:
“This is an extremely unfortunate example of an advertiser scraping an image from the Internet and using it in their ad campaign,” the spokesperson said in the emailed statement.
“This is a gross violation of our ad policies and we have removed the ad and permanently deleted the advertiser’s account.
“We apologize for any harm this has caused.”
The dating website that ran the ad has also since explained the error and issued an apology on Wednesday, according to CTV News.
On Wednesday afternoon, a website administrator for ionechat.com emailed CTV News, saying it was an “accident” that Rehtaeh’s image was used in the company’s ad.
“I simply used a tool to scrape images randomly on Google Images and inserted it into the [Facebook] ad campaign,” Anh Dung said in an email, adding: “I sincerely apologize.”
He said he was not aware of Rehteah’s story, and “didn’t know it was the victim’s photo.”
Such are the challenges with which social media sites struggle in their online advertising models.