Yes, it’s too soon to use Rehtaeh Parsons’ picture for dating ads on Facebook. It will always be too soon to use Rehtaeh Parsons’ picture for dating ads on Facebook.
Rehtaeh Parsons, in case you missed it, committed suicide in April after she was raped in 2011 (at 17) and subjected to constant bullying and slut-shaming by her classmates thereafter. Police initially closed the case, where it was then picked up by Anonymous and solved in a Saturday afternoon.
Arrests were made, and the perpetrators were charged with child pornography. There wasn’t quite enough evidence for rape charges, but Rehtaeh got some semblance of justice from both the system and the wide international attention that Anonymous brought to the case and to the issues of rape culture and cyberbullying, which are going on damn near everywhere these days.
That’s a very brief account of her story, but it’s enough for you to be able to imagine that seeing this on Facebook this week:
… would fucking suck.
Worse, it was her own dad who spotted it.
In a blog post titled “Possibly the worst Facebook ad ever,” Glen Canning wrote “I am completely bewildered and disgusted by this,” adding, “This is my daughter, Rehtaeh. They have her in an ad for meeting singles. I don’t even know what to say.”
Me neither, Mr. Canning.
But Facebook did.
“This is an extremely unfortunate example of an advertiser scraping an image from the internet and using it in their ad campaign,” a spokesman said. “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.”
They made good on that promise, too. The company has been completely banned from Facebook, and their website, ionechat.com, is offline.
Facebook’s use of profile photos in ads has long been controversial. Once upon a time, my page awkwardly hosted a dating ad featuring a photo of an ex-girlfriend, the investigation of which led me to this blog post in which Facebook promises that it doesn’t use member photos for ads, ever.
Facebook has since made an about-face, essentially saying that you don’t have rights to your own name, photos or compensation for their use or the use of third parties on the social network, unless you go through the privacy checklist and specify that you’d like to retain your rights to all that stuff (because it automatically assumes you don’t).
Whether that is or isn’t a big deal is a philosophical matter, and whether Rehtaeh Parsons’ photo was added to the spot by Facebook or by the third party client is unknown. Obviously, Facebook says it wasn’t them.