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Facebook: Supporting Age Bias?

Facebook has been in the news quite a bit lately over alleged wrongdoing in the social media giant’s business practices. There have been allegations surrounding the 2016 US Presidential Election that Facebook didn’t do enough to detect and stop meddling from foreign factions, and there have been numerous allegations of intentional or at least negligent violations of basic privacy protections when it comes to user data.

In a recent article for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), Allen Smith, J.D. reports that the company is again in the spotlight.

Smith reports on a December 2017 class action suit that alleges that employers are blocking older Facebook users from seeing their ads, in essence targeting a younger demographic instead. He quotes attorney Peter Romer-Friedman with Outten & Golden in Washington, D.C., and a lead attorney in the case: “Facebook has been complicit in the age discrimination. Hundreds of employers ‘consciously decided to exclude’ older workers by formatting their job ads so that only younger Facebook users will see them," Romer-Friedman said.

Smith reports that Facebook vice-president of ads issued a statement pushing back on the allegations of the company’s complicity in age bias and arguing that a decision to show job ads to different age groups is not in itself discriminatory, likening the practice to advertising in general which is often targeted to various demographic groups. According to Facebook's statement: “What matters is that marketing is broadly based and inclusive, not simply focused on a particular age group. In addition, certain employers want to attract retirees, or recruit for jobs with specific age restrictions like the military or airline pilots.”

Still, it's not a stretch to surmise that there are employers that may be purposefully eliminating an older demographic from their consideration set. That exclusion, as with any type of exclusion, can be a bad business practice.

Inclusion and diversity efforts go far beyond simply employing people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. It also means diversity and inclusion among people of different gender, sexual orientation, religious and age groups. There are both legal and PR aspects of this. It’s arguable, as the Facebook case demonstrates, that it’s not necessarily illegal to target job ads to certain age groups. But companies will have to consider how age generally fits into their overall diversity and inclusion goals.

Inclusion is a business imperative! Be inclusive!

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