Facebook Shuts Down Dating Site Ad That Used Suicide Victim’s Photograph
The story of Rehteah Parsons is that of a 17-year-old Canadian girl who was gang-raped and then, afterwords, mercilessly bullied for two years before being driven to make a suicide attempt, dying as a result of her injuries three days later.
The Nova Scotia teen died in April of this year after being found in the bathroom of her home, hung in an attempted suicide. Rehteah was kept in the hospital for three days, until her family made the difficult decision to unplug her from life support. Rehteah had gone to a party in 2011, where she drank heavily and was then brutally raped by four young men. One of the rapists took photographs, which were then circulated online and spread throughout Rehteah’s school.
Rehteah was branded a “slut” by the students at her school and endured two years of merciless bullying, both in person and over the internet. The family even moved to a different town in an attempt to halt the cruel bullying, but to no avail; the online harassment continued. When the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were contacted, they launched an investigation, but eventually told the Parsons that there wasn’t enough evidence to charge those involved.
After much anger and activism spurred after the girl’s death, including threats from the online hacktivist group Anonymous, two arrests were made and it finally seemed like the Parsons might be able to grasp some semblance of justice after years of turmoil.
The story picks up again, however, with an online dating website using Rehteah’s photograph in one of its Facebook advertisements. The promotion included a picture of smiling Rehteah, as well as the text, “Find Love in Canada! Meet Canadian girls and women for friendship, dating or relationships.” Once people caught on to the picture and raised concerns, Facebook quickly responded by removing the ad and banning the European company, whose ads were meant to direct users to a matchmaking service called “ionechat.com.”
A Facebook official was quoted as saying, “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.”
The advertisement was a traumatic experience for Rehteah’s father who, when asked about the incident, was quoted as saying, “I am completely bewildered and disgusted by this,” he wrote in a message. “I don’t even know what to say.”
Image courtesy of Angel Rehtaeh, the Facebook page created in Rehtaeh’s memory, managed by her mother.