Last April, Rehtaeh Parsons, a teenager from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, made headlines when she attempted suicide, and later died from complications related to the attempt, after of months of cyber-bullying. The cyber-bullying was focused on the online distribution of photos from an alleged sexual assault in November 2011. She has made headlines once again after an online dating agency, ionechat.com, posted an advertisement using Parsons’ picture. The ad, which appeared on Facebook, encouraged people to sign up and “meet Canadian girls and women for friendship, dating and relationships.”
Anh Dung, an administrator of ionechat.com, has apologized for the incident through an email sent to CTV News. Dung wrote that he “simply used a tool to scrape images randomly on Google Images and inserted it into the [Facebook] ad campaign.” He added that he was not aware that it was Parsons’ photo, and was ignorant of her story.
Facebook has since taken down the ad, and has deleted the account of the online dating agency. They have also banned the group from ever advertising with the social media site again.
“This is an extremely unfortunate example of an advertiser scraping an image from the internet and using it in their ad campaign,” Facebook said in a statement released after the incident. “We apologize for any harm this has caused.”
Ionechat.com, which was an affiliate of another dating website, be2, has been shut down due to the incident. A be2 statement to CBC claims that “the behaviour of the company providing ionechat.com was careless in the extreme and violated a company policy.”
Parsons’ father, Glen Canning, expressed his disbelief in a blog post, saying that he is “bewildered and disgusted” by the use of the photo.
“What a thing for a parent to see. Especially because Rehtaeh is the victim of a sexual assault and they have her on a dating website,” said Canning. “Not only that, she’s also a minor. What does that say?”
Parsons’ mother, Leah Parsons, has also spoken to the media and, in an interview with Global News, said that she and her husband are “constantly reliving the nightmare over and over again.”