Tech & The Web

Facebook Apologizes for Ad with Suicide Victim Photo


Facebook issued an apology after discovering an ad for a dating site used a photo of a bullying victim who committed suicide as its image.

Imagine the horror of losing your child to suicide, then learning that a dating site used her photo in an internet ad for its services.

That’s exactly what happened to the family of a Canadian teenager who died back in April. Rehtaeh Parsons was 17 years old when she died after a suicide attempt. She had allegedly been raped by four boys and then learned that a photo of the alleged incident had been posted and shared online. One of her photos, used frequently in coverage of the case, turned up recently on Facebook in a third-party ad for a dating site with the headline “Find Love in Canada!”

A Toronto copywriter who recognized the well-publicized image and Tweeted about it credited for drawing attention to the ad. Facebook quickly stepped in and deleted the ad. The social networking site took the extra step of banning the advertiser altogether. In its statement, which ran in the Toronto Star, Facebook apologized for the ad, and criticized the advertiser’s apparent method of acquiring the image: photo scraping.

“This is an extremely unfortunate example of an advertiser scraping an image from the Internet and using it in their ad campaign.”

The teen’s father reportedly wrote a post about it on his website, calling it “the Worst Facebook Ad Ever,” but his site appears to be unavailable at the time of this writing. He credits Facebook for taking swift action.

Photo scraping is a high-tech way of saying “stealing”. It’s obvious that the dating site company hadn’t sought permission to use the image. At the same time, while Facebook screens all ads that are submitted on its site, it’s next to impossible for them to catch every case of stolen images, especially when the advertisers who submit the ads have to verify that they have permission to use any images or logos they’ve included.

Perhaps, unfortunately, the best we can hope for is that Facebook would do exactly what it did.

But it’s possible there’s better news than that: AdAge reports the dating site, registered to an administrator in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, has gone offline. We’ll keep our fingers crossed that it’s the last we’ll hear from them.


  1. My gods, I read that story in People Magazine about Rehtaeh Parsins, dead at age 17, thanks to not only the despicable behavior of those criminals who raped her and posted images of the violence to other’s phones, but the cattiness of the girls who held the rape against Rehtaeh! It was a terrible, horrifying story.
    To find out that someone photo scraped of all people, Rehtaeh Parsons, well, what a way to subject her father to this fresh Hell all over again! And, us, who read the original story of woe and of the cruelty of those teens who put Rehtaeh, a victim in too many ways, through her own brand of Hell to boot. That Facebook reacted as quickly as they did speaks highly of them, in this instance. That so much bullying does go on in social media sites without any recourse for the victim… Well, this does not. It is a fine line, isn’t it? We cloak our bullying acts in many ways: freedom of speech, such things like that. I was bullied in school and terribly, in the 1980s; all I can say is how fortuitous that computers were in their infancy and social media sites weren’t around then. Maybe I would have become an ugly statistic, another deceased victim of such disgusting behavior, too.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.