An investigation into Verizon and other companies has raised strange questions about age discrimination in the digital age.
Spearheaded by ProPublica and The New York Times, reporters uncovered an odd trend in online advertisements. Job recruiters from Verizon and other companies were found marketing open positions to Facebook users.
But rather than distributing the advertisements equally, they specifically targeted users between 25 and 36 years old – effectively barring young applicants and old alike from uncovering the postings. According to ProPublica, Verizon is among dozens of large corporations which engage in similar practices. Amazon, Goldman Sachs, Target – and Facebook itself – are guilty of doing just the same.
While the issue may seem moot to some, several experts interviewed by ProPublica and the Times questioned how fair the practice was – and whether it ran afoul of laws regarding age discrimination, made illegal by a government act some fifty years ago.
“It’s blatantly unlawful,” said Debra Katz, a Washington-based lawyer specializing in discrimination suits.
Unsurprisingly, Facebook defended the practice, both on its behalf and that of its clients.
“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 to find work,” said Facebook’s vice president, Rob Goldman.
The use of age targeting, ProPublica writes, was discovered somewhat inadvertently. The website had asked its readers to assist with a project on political ad placements. Facebook, apparently includes disclosures on many of its targeting advertisements, which explain why users are being shown certain content.
Some of the data drilled up by ProPublica reveals the precision with which certain offers are placed. Facebook showed positions for “part-time package handlers” for UPS to users between 18 and 24, while those between 19 and 34 may have come across State Farm hiring pitches.
“We completely reject the allegation that these advertisements are discriminatory,” said Goldman in a statement.
But after being contacted by ProPublica and the Times, Amazon, Northwestern Mutual, and a handful of other organizations said they’d changed their recruiting strategies to be more inclusive.
“We recently audited our recruiting ads on Facebook and discovered some had targeting that was inconsistent with our approach of searching for any candidate over the age of 18,” said Nina Lindsey, a spokeswoman for Amazon. Amazon had pitched some of its ads exclusively to persons 18 through 50.
“We have corrected those ads.”
Mark Edelstein, a legally blind, 58-year old social media marketing strategist, said he’d had suspicions about companies engaging in age discrimination. While he doesn’t pretend to “know what he doesn’t know,” he did notice an odd trend on social media – despite being shown advertisements pertinent to his career and digital interests, he rarely stumbled across job postings.
“It doesn’t surprise me a bit,” said Edelstein. “Why would they want a 58-year old white guy who’s disabled?”