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.”