Companies have been targeting recruitment ads based on age on Facebook, a tactic that is being criticized as ageism, according to a new report.
Amazon, Target, Verizon, Goldman Sachs, and even Facebook itself have run employment ads targeted so that they appeared only in feeds of certain age groups, raising concerns that the companies were discriminating in hiring based on age, according to the report, from Pro Publica and The New York Times.
But Facebook, which has accepted similar critcism about targeting housing ads by race, is defending itself this time. In a blog post, it argues that it's helpful for companies to create customized ads promoting employment that speak to specific audiences, and that the report misconstrues how most employers use the targeting tools.
There are laws against discriminating against people older than 40 in the job market. The Pro Publica report claimed to find a Verizon ad that targeted 25-to 36-year olds, a UPS ad targeting 18-to 24-year-olds and and a State Farm ad targeting 19- to 35-year-olds.
"The ability of advertisers to deliver their message to the precise audience most likely to respond is the cornerstone of Facebook's business model," the Pro Publica report says. "But using the system to expose job opportunities only to certain age groups has raised concerns about fairness to older workers."
It is possible, however, that the ads uncovered by the report show an incomplete picture of the overall recruitment strategies of the companies, and that the companies promote employment across all ages using different media channels.
"Some companies, including Target, State Farm and UPS, defended their targeting as a part of a broader recruitment strategy that reached candidates of all ages," according to the report.
Amazon responded by saying that some of its targeting of employment ads were inconsistent with its approach to promote jobs to all ages, the report says.
Pro Publica also looked at the ability to target job ads based on age on other platforms and found similar capabilities on Google and LinkedIn, the report says.
Pro Publica has uncovered a number of uncomfortable ad targeting possibilities on Facebook in the past year. A report in late 2016 found it was possible to target housing, employment, and financial ads on race-based criteria, which raised legal questions.
That prompted Facebook to change the procedures for using targeting in those types of ads, and forced advertisers to express knowledge of laws around discriminatory ad practices. Pro Public also uncovered targeting categories, automatically created in Facebook's self-serve ad platform, that let marketers target groups based on "interests" like "Jew hating." Those were appearing thanks to racist terms being typed into biographical categories by users of the social network.
With the employment ads, Facebook has pushed back against the claims of discrimination. Rob Goldman, VP of ads at Facebook, said the company completely rejected the idea that it discriminates when advertising job opportunities. "These individual ads are part of broader-based recruitment efforts designed to reach all ages," Goldman said in the company's response.
Goldman also defended the practice of targeting employment ads, comparing the ability to reach certain groups on Facebook and Google with the ability to do the same on TV or magazines.
"In this case, we disagree with Pro Publica," Goldman said. "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."