Several lawsuits in the past year have raised the question: can targeting for job ads be discriminatory? Facebook’s ad targeting system is very powerful, with the ability to select your audience according to many factors, including age, gender, and location. While micro-targeting can be an incredible marketing tool, limiting who sees your job ads can be discriminatory.
Facebook settled with the ACLU last month and will be implementing major changes in its ad platform. Targeting based on age, gender, and other protected classes will no longer be allowed for housing, job, and credit opportunities.
When Targeting Becomes Discriminatory
It’s illegal to discriminate against protected classes when hiring, and these lawsuits raise the argument that limiting who sees those job ads is part of that discrimination. Facebook’s targeting previously allowed job ads to only be shown to select genders or ages.
The Communication Workers of America filed a lawsuit against T-Mobile U.S. Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Cox Communications Inc., and Cox Media Group for excluding older workers from receiving job ads on Facebook. Civil rights laws prevent job discrimination for people older than 40, but companies were targeting for younger candidates. Similarly, lawsuits have been filed against companies for only recruiting on college campuses. Having a cap on years of experience in your job description could also be considered discriminatory.
This type of discrimination goes by many names: weblining, automated inequality, or algorithmic discrimination. It’s incredibly difficult to prevent this kind of targeting, for the simple reason that you don’t know what job opportunities are being denied to you because you won’t see them. Similarly, someone who does see the job listing can’t tell that it’s only visible for their demographic. Without auditing of social media ad platforms, this is difficult to catch and prevent.
What kind of targeting is discriminatory? This has been a subject of debate — is putting a job ad in a magazine with a readership of mostly men discriminatory? What if you target different ads to different demographics? The nature of Facebook’s settlement agreement tells us where these lines are currently being drawn.
Upcoming Changes on Facebook
Facebook will be creating a different space for advertising job, housing, and credit opportunities. In this space, unlike other ads, there will be no targeting base on age, gender, and other protected classes. Facebook will require advertisers to certify compliance with anti-discrimination laws, and have both human and automated review of ads. Facebook will also report to the ACLU every six months for three years to monitor the promised changes.
While laws catch up to current technology, it seems that specifically selecting for and against protected classes goes against longstanding civil rights laws. Ads for jobs, housing, and credit shouldn’t target for age ranges, or for only one gender.
While this will require adjustment for recruiters who use Facebook advertising, it’s a big win for job equality. It’s important to have a strong pool of candidates, and to encourage candidates to apply if they will fit in with your company culture. But there may be ways that advertising to your ideal candidates upholds unconscious biases. Now is the time to review your listing and advertising to make sure you’re focused on what’s important, and not discount candidates based on age, sex, or any protected class.