You might remember the story of Rehtaeh Parsons, the 17-year-old girl from Nova Scotia, Canada who hung herself after she was allegedly raped at a party and had a photograph of the incident passed around to her classmates. Her story was unspeakable and horrendous. Now, imagine that you’re one of her friends or loved ones and you’re scrolling through Facebook and you see her face on a popup for an online dating site. That’s exactly what happened to Rehtaeh’s mother, Leah Parsons — she found a picture of her deceased daughter advertising how to “Find Love In Canada!” for dating company called ionechat.com. You can read more of her mother’s thoughts about this tragedy in a piece she penned for XOJane.
I think my big question is: How could something this monstrously insensitive happen? The owner of ionechat.com, Anh Dung, claims that he used Rehtaeh Parsons’ photos with no knowledge of who the girl was. Since the story broke, Dung shut the website down and issued an apology:
“The website is no longer working because I shut it down, I feel so guilty when I think of it and I don’t want to run it anymore, it’s just a simple site with 2 pages that I use to promote dating offer to make some money. I did not expect it to cause serious consequences. I feel very sorry for my mistake. I’m so stressed right now so I can’t talk anymore.”
God, I almost want to feel sorry for him, but I can’t because my next question (and I’m sure you’re wondering the same thing): How did Dung get Rehtaeh Parsons’ pictures in the first place? It would seem that he got them from Facebook’s Social Context clause, which allows advertisers to use real people’s photographs in ads delivered to their friends. However, a spokesperson for Facebook confirmed that ionechat.com ad featuring Rehtaeh Parsons was not an example of a Social Context ad. Facebook issued their own apology for the incident, but assumed no culpability:
“This is an extremely unfortunate example of an advertiser scraping an image from the internet and using it in their ad campaign.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 caused.”
Extremely unfortunate doesn’t even begin to express what a travesty this is. My thoughts go out to her family.