Union sues over Facebook job ads that exclude older people

Marcus Newton
December 22, 2017

Facebook said that age-targeted job ads, when used responsibly, better help employers find workers of all ages.

Now there's debate over whether that violates the 1968 Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Facebook is not a defendant in the suit filed by CWA, but the complaint alleges that Facebook also uses this tool when it recruits for jobs at the social media company.

"It's blatantly unlawful", said Debra Katz, a Washington employment lawyer who represents victims of discrimination. Facebook's software also enabled advertisers to send ads based on other undesirable categories, such as "Jew-hater", and to send targeted ads for housing to whites only (Facebook claimed that it had subsequently tweaked its systems so that this can longer happen, but a recent report in ProPublica suggested otherwise).

Facebook is trying to get cases dismissed that accuse its advertising platform not only of ageism but of other civil rights violations.

The investigation carried out by US-based non-profit organisation ProPublica and The New York Times has found that some of the biggest employers in the USA like Amazon, Verizon, Goldman Sachs, Target and Facebook itself put up recruitment ads that are limited to particular age groups.

USA law forbids discrimination in employment based on age, race, gender and other legally protected characteristics. ProPublica bought job ads on Google and LinkedIn that excluded audiences older than 40 - and the ads were instantly approved.

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For example, it spoke with a social media strategist in his 50s who wasn't shown an ad for a job in his field at HubSpot, but the same ad was shown to younger users.

A lawsuit was filed on Wednesday by the Communications Workers of America revealed several U.S. employers are actively promoting age discrimination targeting younger workers by placing recruitment ads on Facebook. In a blog post titled, "This Time, ProPublica, We Disagree", Facebook said there is no flaw regarding age-based ads. Job postings were allegedly tailored for younger users and restricted visibility to people outside of predetermined age ranges.

Facebook is also banking on Section 230 of the Federal Communications Decency Act which protects internet companies from liability for third-party content. As proof of Facebook's foul, ProPublica pointed to a cache of ads seen by readers in their news feed, including from Amazon, Northwestern Mutual, Verizon, USPS and even Facebook.

Facebook's ability to drill down when targeting ads has shown to be too good in some instances. In a search for "part-time package handlers", United Parcel Service ran an ad aimed at people 18 to 24. Though it bears no legal responsibility for the content of the ads on its platform, various federal, state, and local statutes assign different levels of responsibility to the purveyors of ads, and it remains an open question whether Facebook's ad-targeting software can be considered to aid discrimination.

"Anyone can buy Teen Vogue and see an ad. Online, however, people outside the targeted age groups can be excluded in ways they will never learn about", the report said.

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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