Facebook has banned a dating website whose ad featured a victim of sexual assault and slut-shaming bullying — Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old girl who killed herself after suffering months of bullying from her school and community after images of Parsons’ rape went viral. The ad, bought by Ionechat.com, featured an image of the girl widely circulated in reports of her suicide, while telling users they could “Find Love in Canada! Meet Canadian girls and women for friendship, dating or relationships.”
Toronto resident Andrew Ennals spotted the ad and contacted Facebook with the screenshot:
Supreme bad taste: a dating site's Facebook ad is using a picture of Rehteah Parsons. pic.twitter.com/nbYhRFr5Mc
— Andrew Ennals (@andrewennals) September 17, 2013
Facebook has reacted quickly to the story, issuing an apology and announcing that it will permanently block the company responsible.
“This is an extremely unfortunate example of an advertiser scraping an image from the Internet and using it in their ad campaign,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “This is a gross violation of our ad policies and we have removed the ad and permanently deleted the advertiser’s account.”
This response is somewhat of a welcome departure from how the company has handled images related to sexual assault and cyberbullying in the past. As recently as this spring, Facebook said much of this content fell under “crude attempts at humor.” It took a feminist campaign raising awareness about Facebook’s failure to condemn sexual violence content for the social media giant to revise its approach.
The use of Parsons’ picture is made even more horrific considering that she became a bullying target once her assailants shared pictures online of her sexual assault, such as a widely circulated photograph of one assailant giving a thumbs-up and a smile. Her family accused the school administration and police of dragging their feet. Two years after Parsons’ rape, and months after her suicide, the two boys were finally arrested on charges of distributing child porn.