Facebook’s Big, Bad Lie About Age Discrimination

Sometimes Facebook’s manipulative tendencies are kept fairly well below the radar. But in some cases, their twisted sensibilities are so blatant that even their own public explanations immediately ring incredibly hollow.

Such is the case with their response yesterday to a ProPublica report accusing their advertising systems of enabling explicit (and in the opinion of many experts, illegal) age discrimination by advertisers seeking employees.

This one is as obvious as Bozo’s bright red nose. Facebook permits advertisers to target employment ads to specific age groups. Facebook users who are not in the designated groups would typically have no way to know that the ads existed at all!

Facebook’s attempted explanation is pathetic:

“US law forbids discrimination in employment based on age, race, gender and other legally protected characteristics. That said, 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 evil duplicity in this statement hits you right in the face. Sure, advertisers run ads on TV shows and in magazines that are oriented toward certain age groups. But there’s nothing stopping adults of other ages from reading those magazines or watching those shows if they choose to do so — and seeing those ads.

By contrast, in Facebook’s tightly controlled, identity-focused ecosystem, the odds are practically nil that you’ll even realize that particular ads exist if you don’t fall into the targeted range. The old saying holds: “You can’t know what you don’t know.”  Facebook’s comparison with traditional media is false and ridiculous. 

ProPublica notes that other large Web services, including Google and others, permit ad targeting by age.  But unlike Google — where many services can be used without logging in and pseudonyms can be easily created — Facebook is almost entirely a walled garden — logins and your true identity are required under their terms of service to do pretty much anything on their platform.

Given Facebook’s dominance in this context, it’s easy to see why their response to these ad discrimination complaints is being met with such ridicule. 

It’s clear that this kind of Facebook age-based ad targeting by advertisers is an attempt to avoid the negative publicity and legal ramifications of explicitly stating the ages of their desired applicants. They hope to accomplish the same results by preventing anyone of the “wrong” ages from even seeing the ads — and the excuses from these advertisers denying this charge are nothing but sour grapes at their schemes (empowered by Facebook) being called out publicly.

Preventing adult users of any age from seeing employment ads is unethical and just plain wrong. If it’s not illegal, it should be.

And that’s the truth.