HALIFAX – Facebook apologized Tuesday for featuring an ad for a dating website that used a picture of Rehtaeh Parsons, the 17-year-old Nova Scotia girl who died after attempting suicide in April.
A spokesperson for the company, who did not want to be named, issued a statement late Tuesday that said the ad was a “gross violation” of the company’s policies and has been removed.
“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 company said the dating website was Ionechat.com. It could not be reached for comment.
The ad featured a picture of Parsons under the heading, “Find Love in Canada! Meet Canadian girls and women for friendship, dating or relationships.”
Parsons was taken off life-support following a suicide attempt, which her family says was brought on by months of bullying following an alleged sexual assault.
Andrew Ennals, a copy writer in Toronto, said he alerted Facebook to the ad when he spotted it on his Facebook page at around 3:30 p.m. ET, and it was later taken down.
He said he noticed the ad on the page’s right-hand column and was stunned to see the picture of Parsons, which had been used widely in the media after her death.
“I don’t normally notice those (ads), but I thought the picture looked really familiar,” he said. “So I just did some quick screen grabs — I was just completely stunned that this could actually happen.”
Ennals tweeted the screen grabs and contacted Facebook.
“I couldn’t believe this was being done to promote anything,” he said.
Parsons’s death prompted the Nova Scotia government to pass the Cyber-Safety Act, which allows people to sue or seek a protection order from the courts if they or their children are being cyberbullied.
The act also paved the way for the creation of an investigative unit dedicated to pursuing and penalizing cyberbullies, which the government expects to be in operation this fall.