Mother of overdose teen 'delighted' by crackdown on fake websites
The mother of a Co Down teenager whose photo was used in false online stories after he died from a drugs overdose, has said she is delighted at plans by Facebook and Google to challenge how fake news sites make advertising money.
Adam Owens was 17 when he died in April last year, after taking a so-called 'legal high'.
Months later, the Newtownards boy's image appeared in false online stories, with one claiming he was an American who had died from an Imodium overdose.
Despite being untrue, the 'click-bait' story was able to generate advertising revenue every time the story was opened or shared online.
"The mentality of these people is disgusting," said Adam's mother Adele Wallace.
"It's soul destroying and so upsetting. People go on those sites and have great fun by being nasty - people were making sexual and lewd comments about my dead son.
"I contacted the original writer, she was totally unprofessional and had no interest in resolving the matter and had already passed it on to other media sites. She knew exactly what she was doing and people were making money from it."
Google has now confirmed it's working on a policy to change its AdSense online advertising network, preventing websites from using misleading content to make money. Facebook is also updating its policy to restrict advertising appearing alongside "misleading or deceptive" content.
However, the new plans will not remove fake news shared by individual users on their own Facebook pages.
The shift comes after the two internet giants were criticised over the role social media played in the US election.
Ms Wallace welcomed the progress, but said steps should also be taken to permanently delete the false articles.
"I think it's excellent they're going to make an effort. Especially restricting sites that are making money from click-bait," she said.
"It caused so much upset to me and other family members. If these rules had already been in place, we could have avoided all this personal pain and the intrusion on our grief."
She said the fake stories were also deeply distressing to Adam's teenage friends.
"I don't have any qualms in telling people my son took a psychoactive substance that killed him. I want to stop other kids going down that road.
"But for the likes of me that has buried their 17-year-old son, that's not going to help me if these articles keep popping up.
"Every time it happens, it just rips the heart clean out of me all over again. It's difficult enough without things like that disrespecting his memory."
Nineteen months after Adam's death, the family are still struggling to cope.
"Everybody is heartbroken, devastated with the loss," said his mother.
"You've lost the most precious thing ever and nothing fills that void - that ache in your heart. I know I'm not the only parent that has lost a child but how do you recover from that? You try your best to keep going but my God it's hard."
She remembers her son as "just a beautiful, happy-go-lucky boy".
"He would have been a Rangers fan as his brother was into football. He was a typical teenager into his music, Eminem and Tupac. He was so funny but also very loving. It's just so hard without him."
Adam had been attending Regent House Grammar school before drugs derailed his education.
His mother said his death revealed a crisis in services for young people with addiction and mental health issues.
"It's not going to go away. There's hundreds of parents out there who can relate to what I'm talking about, people need to hear it.
"There's parents out there where their children may become a statistic, with a death certificate arriving through the post at a later date.
"The Government need to realise how serious the problem with drugs, addiction and mental health is with our youth in every community and province."