Our nation’s anti-discrimination laws prohibit discrimination in recruitment and hiring. Employers can’t, for example, choose to advertise jobs only to men or only to those under 40.
Although illegal, it is entirely possible to target job advertisements to a demographic an employer chooses through Facebook and other social media platforms. These frameworks allow businesses to manipulate their target audience towards a single gender, age group, geographic area, and more.
Meta’s ad targeting framework has landed them in hot water, as the social media giant has faced several lawsuits from advocacy groups and the U.S. Department of Justice. These lawsuits alleged that Facebook ads for job opportunities and housing were being unlawfully targeted toward preferred groups based on age, gender, and other protected characteristics. As a result, Facebook has adopted policies that flag employment and housing ads in an attempt to prevent them from being targeted in a discriminatory fashion.
Advertisers aren’t allowed to discriminate, but it’s happening anyway
A group representing female interstate truckers claims that Facebook’s algorithm distributes ads discriminatorily without employers’ knowledge.
“Facebook’s algorithm regularly acts like recruiters in the 1960s (and even later), who identified jobs as ‘Male’ or ‘Female’ based on gender stereotypes or indicated their preferences to hire younger workers,” Real Women in Trucking, a non-profit, argued in an EEOC filing.
These occurrences appear to be originating from Meta’s marketing algorithm, which calculates the interests of each Facebook member. This algorithm shows each member ads and content that suit their individual interests.
According to a complaint filed against Facebook, its algorithm delivered specific job ads to men under the age of 55 99% of the time. Men received the vast majority of postings for blue-collar jobs that have traditionally excluded women. Meanwhile, females received many more postings for low-paid work in food services, education, healthcare, social services, and administrative positions.
A Meta spokesperson has stated that the company is reviewing this complaint, and claims that although ensuring equity in advertising is a challenge for the industry, but they are collaborating with stakeholders to create technology that will push toward progress on this issue.
Could your company be held liable for algorithmic discrimination?
It is unlikely that employers who run ads on Facebook will be charged with discrimination unless they actively choose to target job ads to a single sex or age group, or to engage in other forms of intentional discrimination the platform might enable. With that said, employers have a duty to ensure their job postings are not discriminatory or targeted to avoid protected groups.