Ageism, Discrimination Alleged in Facebook Job Ads

According to a burgeoning lawsuit, those Facebook job ads you don’t see may be a result of algorithmic ageism.

The class-action lawsuit, filed in December 2017, alleges that Facebook is purposefully using algorithmic tools to feed job ads to younger workers. A communications union, The Communications Workers of America, claims this violates California’s fair employment and unfair competition statutes.

The group is suing on behalf of its membership, but encourages other job seekers who may have missed out on opportunities to join its efforts. It has also named Amazon, IKEA, T-Mobile, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Cox Media Group, and Cox Communications in its expanded filing. It estimates “hundreds” of employers and employment agencies that use Facebook’s tools were purposefully cutting out older professionals, and may have been filtering out candidates by race, gender, and geography, as well.

“When Facebook’s own algorithm disproportionately directs ads to younger workers at the exclusion of older workers, Facebook and the advertisers who are using Facebook as an agent to send their advertisements are engaging in disparate treatment,” read the union’s filing.

In a statement, Facebook Vice President of Advertisements Rob Goldman wrote: “Facebook tailors our employment ads by audience… We completely reject the allegation that these advertisements are discriminatory.”

As it relates to other companies using Facebook’s tools to target a younger workforce, Goldman added: “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.”

The lawsuit may not be new, but its scope is now expanded to more companies, and alleges further discriminatory behavior. Ageism is a slippery slope, though: The FOSTA and SESTA laws set a precedent that a website or service can be held liable for the user-generated content it hosts; but no such laws tackle ageism in the workplace, or even ad targeting.

Bloomberg notes that Facebook is using the Communications Decency Act to thwart this litigious advance. The act was an early attempt to regulate adult content online. A TL;DR of that act effectively says that, so long as you don’t purposefully show porn to kids, you’re probably not breaking any laws.

In an interview with Bloomberg, union lawyer Peter Romer-Friedman said: “It’s important that the EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] engages in a rigorous and comprehensive investigation of Facebook, since Facebook is the largest employment agency in the history of the world. To the extent that Facebook’s algorithm is using age to determine who will get what ads, and that results in older workers being excluded, those decisions are Facebook’s decisions.”

4 Responses to “Ageism, Discrimination Alleged in Facebook Job Ads”

  1. Michael Wilson

    If you’re over the age of 45 you are aware of the fact that age discrimination exists in the tech industry. I am in my 60s and I constantly receive emails from recruiters who see my profile and last 10 years of experience on either LinkedIn, Dice, and/or Indeed. Once I actually send a copy of my portfolio showing over 200 apps in the marketplace, plus 40 years experience, I hear nothing back. Tech companies want my level of experience in somebody who is 25…Eventually you resign yourself to the facts of life and continue doing contract programming for those folks who actually know you and the work you do. As we say in South Texas, Esta Bien or Es lo que es

    • James Spisiak

      I am in my 60s also. This is a real life event. About four years ago I interviewed face to face for a position with a local, larger firm. I didn’t get the job Not long afterwards, I got a call from a recruiting agency for a contract position with the same company. All of my interaction was telephonically. I landed that position.

      A face to face interview resulted in a rejection. A telephone interview with the same company landed the position.

      Three guesses what the difference was.

      I have basically given up on any prospect of landing something that involves a face to face interview.

  2. I went back to school for a master’s degree after twenty years. Had a job interview and left my BA off my resume. I was perfect for this job — it was what I had been doing in the six years after I got my masters degree. The child interviewing me kept digging at when did I get my bachelor’s degree. I said it wasn’t relevant to the job and that’s why I left it off my resume. My masters degree and the work I had done since we’re relevant. And I explained how do. And than that little jacka** kid would go back to “WHEN did you get your bachelor’s degree..?”

    Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. And I totally blame age discrimination.

    Little ba****d. Hope he tastes his own medicine…

    • Lenore

      I KNOW what you’re saying is true. I’ve strategically only applied for positions where my background and experience were spot on. These were at companies that also claim they support veterans, and on four occasions, I have gotten:
      “We decided not to fill that position.”
      “That position has not been funded.”
      “The position is no longer available.”
      “We decided to go in a different direction.”
      This is after the screening interview and the hiring manager interview.

      What REALLY gets me is when I get an email from a recruiter, within 2 weeks of getting a rejection email, for the same position. One day, all these people will be older. And I hope and pray they never have to take a break from employment to take care of their elderly parents.