SUSAN KRASHINSKY – MARKETING REPORTER
The Globe and MailV – Published
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 the dating service ionechat.com has been permanently banned from the social network as an advertiser.
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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.
The dating website is registered to online dating service be2, which is based in Luxembourg. The website also links to Munich-based firm Insparx GmbH, which runs dating websites and lists be2 as a “core partner.”
Requests for comment from be2 and Insparx were not immediately returned.
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. If it was lifted from Facebook, it was not the result of any algorithm around social context ads.
Before its account was deleted, ionechat.com was using Facebook’s self-serve ad tool. As of Tuesday night, Facebook had not been in direct contact with the advertiser.
The sheer offence of using an image of a bullied girl in this way makes it likely that this was a case of an advertiser not checking for context when searching for an image to use in an ad.
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.