Efficiency Or Ageism? Study Says Companies Use Online Ads To Exclude Older Candidates

Language and the Machine


ProPublica and The New York Times found that employers are using demographic ad targeting in sponsored job posts.

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ProPublica and The New York Times have released a report suggesting that companies are using digital ad targeting to exclude older candidates from various job postings. The study looked at ads posted on Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn.

Ad targeting is a common tactic used by digital advertisers to ensure that their messages are reaching the most relevant audiences with the most appropriate creative at the most optimal times. That said, these strategies for boosting ad efficiencies become potentially problematic when age restrictions are placed on job ads. The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), passed in 1967, prohibits companies from excluding or dissuading candidates over 40 from job opportunities.

According to Digital Trends, the investigation included a United Parcel Service (UPS) ad targeted at users 18 to 24, a State Farm ad targeted to users 19 to 35, and a Verizon ad targeted to users 25 to 36. Amazon, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Facebook corporate were also among those called out for posting exclusionary ads for jobs.

On the day the study was released, USA Today reported that the Communications Workers of America labor union filed a formal complaint against some of the employers included in the investigation for age discrimination. Details reveal the case seeks class-action status “to represent Facebook users 40 or older who may have been denied the chance to learn about open job positions.”

Facebook defended the move in a statement, which argued that “simply showing certain job ads to different age groups on services like Facebook or Google may not in itself be discriminatory—just as it can be OK to run employment ads in magazines and on TV shows targeted at younger or older people.”

The position of Facebook is that the marketing messages themselves are broad and inclusive. Facebook’s VP of Ads added that, “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.”

Despite maintaining that their approach is ethical, Facebook admitted that the ProPublica study shined a light on how these types of situations should be handled and that the company would be more proactive when it comes to dealing with “bad ads” moving forward.

Interested in learning more about the impact of personalization on marketing and culture? Read about our 2018 global conference theme, “Closer,” and register to attend SWMNYC in New York this April.

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