On Tuesday the ACLU filed charges of unlawful gender-based discrimination against Facebook and 10 employers accused of targeting job ads at males only.
The ACLU, Outten & Golden, a Washington, D.C. law firm brought the action on behalf of three female workers, the hundreds of thousands of female workers and a class of millions of female workers allegedly denied job opportunities due to their gender.
The complaint alleges that Facebook delivers job ads selectively based on age and sex categories expressly chosen by employers, and that the social network profits from ads that exclude older workers and women from receiving them.
By law, online platforms are not liable for the content others post on their networks. They however, argue that Facebook can be held liable in this case for the following reason:
- It created and operates a system that allows and encourages employers to select the gender and age of the people who get their job ads.
Right now, advertisers can craft ads on Facebook that discriminate against women and older workers, maintained Outten &Golden attorney Peter Romer-Friedman.
Facebook already blocks advertisers from discriminating in employment ads based on race, Romer-Friedman noted. “The primary thing we’re asking Facebook to do is to treat gender as it does race.”
Facebook is defending itself against the charges of discrimination.
Facebook has a system in place to review its targeting tools to make sure they’re safe and civil, Osborne noted. That system recently removed more than 5,000 options that allowed advertisers to exclude audiences based on ethnicity or religion.
In addition, advertisers are reminded, through prompts, about Facebook’s antidiscrimination policies before they create campaigns using the social network’s exclusion tools.
The company plans to require advertisers to consent that they will comply with Facebook’s antidiscrimination policies, as well as the law.
For Internet platforms that use targeted advertising, the stakes could be very high.
“Facebook and other platforms that rely on targeting advertising to make money may need to change their business practices so that they do not allow certain types of advertising, like ads for jobs or housing, to be directed at only men or only women,” said Pauline T. Kim, a professor of law at Washington University of Law in St. Louis.
Although microtargeting discrimination affects other Internet platforms, Facebook often becomes the poster child for problems on the Net, Romer-Friedman acknowledged, “but it seems to me it’s slower to address these scandals than other platforms.”
Actions against the platforms likely will expand to other classes of people the law protects from discrimination.
“There is already a similar suit that has been filed by older workers alleging employment discrimination,” Washington University Law’s Kim told the E-Commerce Times.
That lawsuit, filed in December by the CWA on behalf all Facebook users 40 or older who may have been denied the chance to learn about job openings, is based on an in-depth investigation by the union of Facebook employment ads.
The probe discovered that hundreds of employers and employment agencies were illegally targeting their employment ads to exclude older workers who fall outside specified age ranges — such as ages 18 to 40 or ages 22 to 45 — and preventing them from seeing the ads and pursuing the job opportunities in them.
The primary purpose of the action is to get Facebook to change its advertising policies, Romer-Friedman noted, but monetary damages are on the table, too.