A woman in California was left reeling after she discovered a disturbing commercial — that featured her family.
Sara Ancich of Orange County says a professional photo that her family took eight years ago for a Christmas card was featured in a Facebook ad for FilterMax face masks without her knowledge or consent, CBS Los Angeles reports.
The ad falsely claimed that she and her entire family — except for her youngest son — had died after contracting COVID-19 at a church service during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Who would have the audacity to clearly not know a family and type that they had died?” Ancich told the CBS affiliate. “It’s on the forefront of everybody’s mind in the news and everything and how quickly it is taking lives. It could so, so clearly be true to people.”
The ad — which was taken down Monday, a Facebook representative told CNN — opens with sad music, and shows the Ancich family photo alongside text.
“Youngest son from a family of 5 is the sole survivor from the deadly pandemic after wearing a CDC approved respirator,” the text in the video reads.
The family photo — which CBS Los Angeles discovered was featured on many Pinterest boards as an example of a Christmas card picture — was taken by photographer Rich Lander and was posted on his website. It has since been taken down as well, CNN reports.
The ad claimed that the family ignored warnings of attending large public gatherings during the pandemic, and went to a 176-person service. Humorously, the ad explains this while using footage of the British royal family inside Westminster Abbey. In the ad, you can clearly see Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
The ad also features footage of a teenage boy who claims to be the sole survivor of the family, who lived because he was the only family member to wear one of the company’s face masks. In the ad, the teen’s name is “Justin.” Ancich told CNN she has never seen the teen in the video and that her youngest son is named Ryan.
“I am curious about the boy in the video, too,” she told CBS Los Angeles. “Where’s he in this? Does he know that he’s out there?”
Ancich told CNN that she found out about the fake ad on April 10 after her brother-in-law texted her about it. She told CBS Los Angeles that she was flooded with messages from worried friends and family for the next several days who reached out to make sure the information in the ad wasn’t true.
CNN notes that there were several versions of the ad featuring different families. All of them used the same “sole survivor” narrative and have since been pulled from Facebook.
The social media platform also told both outlets that it’s combating the exploitation of the virus for financial gain by banning ads about hand sanitizer, wipes, face masks and COVID-19 tests.
Ancich told the CBS Los Angeles that she tried reporting the video to Facebook numerous times, but it didn’t seem like the ad was pulled until it began getting media attention.
She added that she hasn’t posted that particular family photo on social media in years.
“It was upsetting. It’s violating,” she told CBS Los Angeles of the experience. “I don’t know how I could have prevented this, or I would have.”
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