Just like it’s gotten caught red-handed allowing landlords to tailor ads excluding potential tenants on the basis of race or ethnicity or anyone to purchase ads targeting groups like “Jew haters,” Facebook has apparently been helping dozens of companies target employment ads only to those supple, hard-working youths.
According to a new report from ProPublica and the New York Times, Facebook has helped companies like Verizon, Amazon, Goldman Sachs, and Target place “recruitment ads limited to particular age groups,” as well as used its targeting abilities to recruit its own employees from certain age groups. Washington labor lawyer Debra Katz told ProPublica the practice is “blatantly unlawful,” citing the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967—which prohibits bias in the hiring process against anyone older than 40 years. As the site noted, it’s also possible the move puts Facebook in violation of other laws on both the state and local level which prohibit aiding or abetting age discrimination in employment.
In a statement, Facebook acknowledged ProPublica has turned up other instances of “serious failures on our part” in its advertising systems. But it said its own recruitment efforts are “designed to reach all ages and all backgrounds,” and added that “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.”
According to ProPublica, Facebook also argues that the Communications Decency Act’s Section 230—the same law which protects websites from behind held liable for content posted by users—applies to its job postings. But legal experts told the site while it’s clear the law protects Facebook from lawsuits over the content of ads, it’s less clear whether it protects Facebook’s elaborate ad-targeting programs.
While some companies defended their age-targeted ads as part of broader campaigns to reach workers of all age groups, others including Amazon, Northwestern Mutual, and NYC’s Department of Education told ProPublica they had screwed up and that they would not place such ads in the future.
As the Observer noted in 2016, few forms of discrimination are more accepted than age-based bias in the tech industry: “When it comes to race and gender bias, the people running Silicon Valley at least pay lip service to wanting to do better—but with age discrimination they don’t even bother to lie.” The tech workforce is disproportionately young, with surveys showing ample hints of discrimination against the over-40 set.
The reason for this is probably the same obvious reason employers in many sectors might seek to take advantage of Facebook’s ability to target younger workers with job ads: Young people tend to be eager to get ahead and have fewer external obligations like kids. They thus work longer hours for less pay, and management is generally willing to exploit this for short-term benefit. That’s a flaw of our economic system, not a creation of Facebook, but it looks an awful lot like Facebook might be making it easier to get away with.