Facebook Close to Finalizing Changes for Job Ads

Posted by Charles Middleton on 07/23/2019

In September, the social media network—and gold mine for marketers—plans to roll out a restricted advertising system for all employment, housing and credit ads created through the site's Ads Manager. All employers trying to create job ads will be redirected to Facebook's restricted system by December 31.

The new system for job ads—separate from the advertising stream for all other targeted ads—will no longer allow employers to screen people by age, gender or ZIP code and will have a much smaller set of targeting categories.

There are two ways to advertise a job on Facebook today: via posted listings or through the ads platform, explained Chris Russell, a digital-recruiting consultant and HR technology advisor with RecTech Media in Trumbull, Conn.

He added that the most critical step when creating an ad is tailoring its audience through Facebook's thousands of targeting categories related to users' profiles. After deciding on spending parameters and location, "interests is where most of the targeting is done," Russell said. "You select criteria like past job titles, employers, occupational licenses and associations, or keywords people have in their profiles."

Facebook also revealed that it's building a separate section in its Ad Library that will let people search and view employment ads by company and location, regardless of whether the ads were directed to them. The tool is projected to be available in 2020.

Legal Challenges Lead to Overhaul

Facebook's focus on its ad-targeting system followed a series of discrimination claims and lawsuits brought by several civil rights organizations and private claimants in 2017, including a group of women who leveled gender-discrimination charges with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Lawyers for the women showed how the company's ad-building tool let businesses exclude women from seeing job posts.

Directing online ads by strategic criteria, including legally protected characteristics, is standard practice for marketers, but federal law prohibits employers from excluding people from job advertising.

Targeting online job postings by age and gender ignores protections put in place in the 1960s, when civil rights legislation addressed newspaper classified ads, said Galen Sherwin, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the groups that sued Facebook.

"As more people turn to the Internet to find jobs, apartments and loans, there is a real risk that ad targeting will replicate and even exacerbate existing racial and gender biases in society," she said. Imagine that an employer chooses to display ads for engineering jobs only to men—users who aren't identified as men will never know what they missed, she added.

To resolve multiple lawsuits with plaintiffs, Facebook agreed to stop targeting advertisements to people based on protected characteristics and to limit the criteria advertisers can use to select who sees their ads.

The company "removed thousands of targeting options that had the potential to be misused," said Rob Goldman, vice president of ads for Facebook. "And we introduced prompts reminding advertisers about our anti-discrimination policies."

Once the new system is in place, employers won't be able to target ads based on interests such as Spanish-language TV channels or whether a user identifies as a "mom" or "dad." The option to target jobs by ZIP code will be eliminated because some ZIP codes have higher concentrations of certain racial or ethnic groups.

Impact on Recruiting

The ability to narrowly define an audience for a job ad is what makes Facebook such a powerful tool for recruiters.

"Facebook is special as an advertising platform precisely because individual profile characteristics can be targeted—things like how much money someone makes, what school they went to, how old someone is, what kind of degree they have," said Joel Cheesman, a recruitment industry veteran and co-host of the popular Chad & Cheese Podcast. "From a marketing standpoint, micro-targeting got the job done, but seen from another perspective—whether it's intended or not—the potential for discrimination is obvious."

Without the option to target job ads by gender and age, recruiters will lose some of the potency of targeted ads, specifically for roles that are dominated by one gender or other, Russell said. "By taking gender and age away from advertising targeting options, ads will be ... less effective."

The change will also impact diversity recruiting practices. Companies hoping to attract candidates to boost racial or gender diversity will no longer be able to advertise solely to those candidates on Facebook.

Algorithms Next?

Another lawsuit lodged against Facebook alleged that Amazon, T-Mobile and hundreds of other companies used Facebook to exclude older workers from targeted job ads posted on the site.

That suit is pending and brings up a bigger problem for Facebook: that the site's algorithms could be discriminatory even if employers aren't trying to exclude older users from their employment ads. Lawyers for the plaintiffs argue that the algorithms are designed to deliver ads to the users most likely to click on them, which, in the case of job ads, may be younger people.

Goldman disagreed that the algorithms are discriminatory. "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," he said. "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."

Written by Roy Maurer, Online Manager/Editor, Talent Acquisition.   Roy covers talent acquisition for SHRM Online. Before joining SHRM in 2008, he was an editor and reporter covering state and city government in Indiana, arts and culture in Los Angeles and theater in Washington, D.C. Before that he was a filmmaker and screenwriter and before that a photographer in the United States Marine Corps.  He has a master's degree in journalism from Indiana University and a bachelor's degree in film production from Columbia College.

Published by www.shrm.org, July 23, 2019