Facebook accused of allowing sexist job advertising by campaign group

·2-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Campaign group Global Witness has accused social media platform Facebook of breaking equality law in the way it shares job adverts after sharing the results of an experiment.

The group said Facebook failed to prevent discriminatory targeting of adverts and claimed that its algorithm is biased in choosing who would see them.

The experience involved Global Witness creating four job adverts linked to real vacancies on Indeed’s job site for nursery nurses, pilots, mechanics and psychologists.

The only specification given by the group was that the ads should only by seen by adults in the UK.

“That meant that it was entirely up to Facebook’s algorithm to decide who to show the ads to,” said Naomi Hirst, who led Global Witness’s investigation. “What it decided appears to us to be downright sexist.”

Almost all (96 per cent) of the Facebook users who were shown adverts for mechanics were men, while ads for nursery nurses were seen almost exclusively (95 per cent) by women.

Of the people shown an ad for airline pilots, 75% were men, and 77% of users who were shown an ad for psychologists were women.

Global Witness submitted another two adverts for Facebook, instructing the platform not to show one advert to women and the other to anyone over the age of 55.

Both adverts were approved, although it did ask the organisation to tick a box saying it would not discriminate against these groups.

Facebook claims its system shows people ads they may be most interested in, telling BBC News: “Our system takes into account different kinds of information to try and serve people ads they will be most interested in and we are reviewing the findings within this report.”

Global Witness has filed a submission to the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission and has written to the Information Commissioner to attempt to force Facebook to change its ways.

A spokesperson from Facebook said: “Our system takes into account different kinds of information to try and serve people ads they will be most interested in, and we are reviewing the findings within this report. We’ve been exploring expanding limitations on targeting options for job, housing and credit ads to other regions beyond the US and Canada, and plan to have an update in the coming weeks.”

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