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Female truckers say Facebook’s algorithms may be steering job ads away from women, older workers

Savannah Maher Dec 20, 2022
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Meta, Facebook’s parent company, said it has a new system in the works to prevent ad discrimination. Noah Berger/AFP via Getty Images

Female truckers say Facebook’s algorithms may be steering job ads away from women, older workers

Savannah Maher Dec 20, 2022
Heard on:
Meta, Facebook’s parent company, said it has a new system in the works to prevent ad discrimination. Noah Berger/AFP via Getty Images
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The advocacy group Real Women in Trucking says Facebook’s targeted employment ads discriminate against women and older users. 

In a complaint to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, the group alleges that ads for jobs in certain high-paying blue-collar fields like trucking reached an audience that was 99% male and under the age of 55. 

Growing up in the 1960s, Desiree Wood remembers seeing hiring ads in the newspaper. “And they would be listed by jobs for men and jobs for women,” she said. “That’s illegal now.”

That’s because of protections in the 1964 Civil Rights Act that forbid discrimination in hiring on the basis of sex, among other protected characteristics including race and religion. 

But social media algorithms sometimes behave like those 1960s hiring managers, said Wood, who’s President of Real Women in Trucking.

“The Facebook algorithm would decide women want to be a nurse or a teacher or a caregiver and hiding jobs that the algorithm thought women wouldn’t do.” Like in construction or firefighting. 

Social media platforms can’t explicitly steer hiring ads away from women or older workers, per Ifeoma Ajunwa, who studies technology in the workplace at the UNC School of Law.

But they might ask that their ads be targeted at users with certain interests. “Which are not protected characteristics, but, which in reality, actually highly correlate to protected characteristics,” Ajunwa said.

Even when employers don’t ask for a certain audience, Ajunwa said the algorithm can discriminate anyway in pursuit of clicks.

“We can allow automated decision-making tools to make conclusions about people that will then treat them in a discriminatory way without being explicit about it,” she said.

This puts employers in a tough spot, said Andy Challenger at outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas. 

“I think when you just give your ad dollars on a posting to the algorithm, there’s nobody watching it,” said Challenger.

Meta, Facebook’s parent company, said it’s reviewing the complaint from Real Women in Trucking and it has a new system in the works to prevent ad discrimination. 

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