A Realtor who posted social media ads about a prisoner of war and a dead cab driver is under fire — even as she insists that she is the victim of a coordinated bullying attack.
Debbie Hanlon, a Canadian Realtor and an elected official in St. John’s, Newfoundland, posted numerous advertisements on Instagram and Twitter to promote her real estate business over the weekend. One Instagram post featured a photo of Yang Kyoungjong, a Korean civilian who was enlisted to fight against Japan in World War II, and captured twice — first by the Soviet Union and later by the Nazis — and then said that Hanlon similarly “fights” for her clients.
“Korean Yang Kyoungjong fought with Japan against the USSR,” reads the post, which Hanlon later took down but the CBC retained. “He then fought with the USSR against Germany. Then with Germany against the US! Want an agent who fights for you, call me!”
The response on social media was swift — many called Hanlon “insensitive” for using a war veteran to promote her real estate business. One Twitter user, critical of Hanlon’s posts, slammed the bizarre social media ads with a satirical advertisement of his own, referencing Adolph Hitler, Osama Bin Laden and the cannibal Albert Fish to demonstrate the absurdity of the Realtor’s real-life real estate promotion.
“This is Adolf Hitler,” wrote Twitter user @DickieNL. “Do you need someone to Fuhrioisly attack your real estate needs? Contact Debbie Hanlon, she’ll fight for you. #HanlonRealityLostAds”
“I hope Debbie Hanlon is at least paying paying Yang Kyoungjong’s family a fee for his appearance in her tasteless adverts,” local photographer Colin Peddle wrote on Twitter.
I hope Debbie Hanlon is at least paying Yang Kyoungjong's family a fee for his appearance in her tasteless adverts.
— Colin Peddle (@colinpeddle) June 18, 2018
In an interview with Inman, Hanlon on Monday said she had not anticipated the response her social media activity would draw. She said she purchased more than 1,000 ads meant to be entertaining from a local artist four years ago and has been routinely using some of them in posts over the past four years.
“I took it down as soon as I found out,” said Hanlon, who has written a Facebook post apologizing for the advertisements. “But that’s not satisfying anybody. Everybody wants my head.”
Another ad, which was also taken down, referenced the death of Puerto Rican cab driver Victor Perez Cardona, who after succumbing to cancer in 2015 garnered headlines when he was laid to rest in his own taxi. The advertisement ended with a line telling people to call if they “need a lift to our great service.”
Hanlon said she was inundated with “hate” from real estate agents both local and from as far away as British Columbia, including a woman who called her home and called her a “racist pig.” But the larger community response was bafflement — local lawmakers, residents and businesspeople wondered what the ads were supposed to represent and whether they were a prank.
“I thought it was a prank of some sort because I can’t believe that anyone or any kind of businessperson would use that as their intentional marketing,” St. John’s local Hasan Hai told a local newspaper.
Hanlon, who also works as a children’s book author, described the response to her ads as bullying. Other ads, including one featuring Viagra and another one featuring unicorns, remain on Hanlon’s social media accounts.
“I wish that this never happened,” Hanlon said. “I don’t want this attention and just want to do my job.”
Keeping it Real Estate pic.twitter.com/wTtqBNeHQa
— Debbie Hanlon (@DebbieHanlon1) May 28, 2018
Keeping it Real Estate pic.twitter.com/nBkWDbjdut
— Debbie Hanlon (@DebbieHanlon1) May 29, 2018