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Facebook advertising platform accused of discrimination

Under pressure

Over the last couple of months ProPublica has been causing quite a few issues for Facebook, but the latest one has actually caused the social media giant to post a defensive reaction.

The most recent complaint is focused on how Facebook uses its advertising platform to show recruitment ads to specific age groups. An investigation from ProPublica has claimed companies are using advertising platforms such as Facebook, Amazon and Google, to target individuals within specific age brackets, which it has claimed is a blatant unlawful act.

Naturally, Facebook has defended its position.

“Today ProPublica has raised new concerns about companies, including our own marketing team, using Facebook to show recruitment ads to specific age groups,” said Rob Goldman, VP of Ads. “We have carefully reviewed their concerns — and this time we disagree.

One of the arguments here is that this is not a new practise and precedent has been set in other areas of media. Let’s say a company runs an advert for a position in the London Evening Standard, which has a circulation specific to London, this company could be deemed as discriminating against every potential candidate who doesn’t live in London.

Another example might be jobs which are advertised in titles which are more appealing to either men or women. Should the companies who place adverts in these titles be held accountable for sexual discrimination?

“We take abuse of our systems incredibly seriously,” said Goldman. “We proactively look for bad ads, and investigate concerns when they are raised. We know we have more work to do — as previous investigations by ProPublica have shown. And we’re investing heavily in more people and better technology so that we constantly improve over time.

“But in this case we disagree with ProPublica. 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.”

In this case, logic should surely dictate. Companies have a limited budget to advertise positions, and therefore have to be clever in the way they work. Should male grooming brands be punished for advertising to men? No, as while there might be female customers, the majority will be male. Statistically, graduate jobs will most likely appeal to recent graduates. This is the way advertising works. In theory, it has been practising discrimination from the beginning.

The law is a funny thing though. Discrimination is a hot topic now and regulators are looking to make examples to demonstrate their position of power and tackle the problem in its earliest days. It’s not out of the question that politicians would want to make an example of Facebook, but we hope regulators chase those who are actively discriminating individuals, as opposed to those who are trying to get the most bang for their advertising buck.

Those who decline offering a position or an interview for someone who is older, should be held accountable. But that does not seem to be the case here, it is a logical use of limited advertising funds.


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