At the end of 2017, ProPublica and The New York Times published a report suggesting that Amazon, Verizon, Facebook, and other big firms aim their Facebook recruitment ads exclusively at younger workers.
Nor is the practice reportedly restricted to Facebook ads. “ProPublica bought job ads on Google and LinkedIn that excluded audiences older than 40—and the ads were instantly approved,” the organization wrote. “Google said it does not prevent advertisers from displaying ads based on the user’s age.” LinkedIn claims to have altered its system in the wake of the report.
Facebook gives advertisers the ability to micro-target potential audiences; for example, you could ensure an ad is only seen by Facebook users between the ages of 25 and 36. If age-based targeting is really endemic among employers, then older job hunters could spend all day on Facebook and never see an employment-related ad.
(In a statement to ProPublica, Facebook defended its system, stating: “Used responsibly, age-based targeting for employment purposes is an accepted industry practice and for good reason: it helps employers recruit and people of all ages find work.”)
Although federal civil rights laws protect workers over 40, fears of ageism are endemic within the tech industry. In October 2017, a survey by Indeed found that 43 percent of tech workers were worried about losing their jobs due to their age. Some 18 percent said the worry was constant, while 36 percent said colleagues don’t take them seriously because of their age. (And other surveys have produced similar results.)
Those concerns over ageism are transforming into court cases. On December 20, the Communication Workers of America (CWA) filed a lawsuit against T-Mobile, Amazon, and Cox Communications over age discrimination, citing the age-targeted ads on Facebook as a key factor. “Plaintiffs seek an injunction to stop America’s leading companies from engaging in unlawful age discrimination in employment,” the filing began, “as well as other forms of relief for older workers who have been denied job opportunities due to the unlawful and harmful practices described in this Complaint.”
Whether or not such lawsuits succeed, it’s clear that ageism will remain a point of hot debate into 2018. Will heightened publicity over this ad-targeting practice actually stop it?