Two months ago, scrolling through your Facebook feed meant seeing countless ads for clothing, vacation deals, and smartphone accessories. Now, the entire landscape has changed because of the coronavirus outbreak and you are probably seeing countless ads for face masks. As many statewide officials are now recommending that we all wear protective masks when we’re out, the need for masks has exploded.
You’ve probably seen several of the ads yourself, but have you ever seen the faces of you and your family staring back at you? One family of five from Orange County, California discovered that a company marketing facemasks had stolen their image and used it to create a terrifying ad.
It’s bad enough to find that your family’s image is being widely disseminated without your permission, but it was much worse than that.
In the ad, a face mask had been photoshopped on the youngest child in the family. The rest are shown smiling mask-free. The ad claims that the entire family except for the child with the mask died from COVID-19.
The ad purports that the child’s life was saved because he wore the mask that’s for sale. Needless to say, the family was not pleased. As, they are in fact, all alive and never gave permission for their photo to be used.
On April 10, a text message alerted the matriarch of the family that something seriously strange had happened.
Sara Ancich got a text message from her brother-in-law on April 10 that alerted her to the disturbing ad.
The video ad begins showcasing the image of her family with grave music playing in the background with text that reads, “Youngest son from a family of 5 is the sole survivor from the deadly pandemic after wearing a CDC approved respirator.”
“It was sickening and it was violating,” the mother of three told CNN.
The image was lifted from a professional photographer’s online portfolio.
The photo was taken eight years ago by Rich Lander and used on his website. The image has since been removed from Lander’s website.
The ad goes on to claim that the family did not heed government warnings and attended a 176-person event and “Justin,” the youngest son, was the only member to wear a facemask. Behind the text, the ad uses video of the British royal family inside Westminster Abbey. The text over the random smiling boy says that he “narrowly escaped death.”
Ancich’s youngest son is now 16-years-old and his name is Ryan.
“The boy that supposedly portrayed our youngest son, we don’t know who that boy is.”
Ancich tells CNN, “The boy that supposedly portrayed our youngest son, we don’t know who that boy is.”
The ominous ad is one of many similar versions being investigated. All of the ads employ the same “lone survivor” style script and FilterMax branding.
The FilterMax ad claims that its mask “deploys dual filtration valve technology with a 5-layer protection filter, which effectively blocks out 99.9% of bacteria, dust, smog, and pollen from entering your lungs.” The ad also says that its products are FDA approved. However, the FDA publishes a list of approved respirators and FilterMax’s are not on it.
There are numerous companies using the name “FilterMax” which makes getting to the bottom of this mystery difficult.
CNN launched a full investigation into the ad and they found that several companies are currently using the name “FilterMax.” They reached out to several online stores that have carried the FilterMax branded masks including, Shopify an online shopping platform that hosted two online stores that sold the masks.
A spokesperson for Shopify said that their “teams continue to actively review COVID-19 related products and businesses.”
“Over the last few weeks, we have closed more than 5,000 stores in our COVID-19 related reviews,” they claimed.
Facebook removed the ad and issued an apology.
As part of the investigation, CNN reached out to Facebook. A spokesman for Facebook said that it had removed the video and “taken steps to keep people from sharing it.”
“We apologize to the family impacted by the video. We also continue working to stop people from exploiting this crisis for financial gain by banning the sale of masks and other products that are linked to predatory behavior,” the spokesman said.
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