Job Ads on Facebook Discriminate Against Older Workers

Investigation finds that companies are recruiting only candidates younger than 40

5 January 2018

Dozens of leading employers in the United States—including Amazon, Target, and Verizon—are placing recruitment advertisements on Facebook that target job hunters younger than 40. This finding is based on an investigation conducted by The New York Times and the nonprofit journalism organization ProPublica.

The ability of advertisers to deliver a message to a precise audience is a cornerstone of Facebook’s business model. Facebook last year launched a section on its website devoted to job ads. Employers select criteria about prospective workers, such as profession, location, interests, and age range, and then Facebook uses its extensive data collected about its users to direct the ads to the target audience.

ProPublica reached its conclusion about the use of age targets in a review of data it originally compiled for a project about political ad placements on Facebook. The two news outlets co-published an article last month about their findings.

Using Facebook to promote job openings only to certain age groups has raised concerns. Some say the practice runs afoul of the U.S. Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. The law was passed to promote the employment of workers based on ability rather than age, to prevent discrimination, and to help solve problems that arise with an aging workforce. The act prohibits bias against people 40 or older in hiring or employment.

According to ProPublica, a recruitment ad placed by Verizon for financial analysts that appeared on Facebook in November ran on the feeds of Facebook users ages 25 to 36 who lived in Washington, D.C., or had recently visited the capital, and who showed an interest in finance. The ad featured an image of a woman in her 20s.


Some companies contend there are justifiable reasons to filter by age, such as for entry-level positions. Others argue that targeted recruiting on Facebook is comparable to advertising in publications such as Teen Vogue or to those 50 and older who receive AARP’s magazine. Anyone can buy those publications and see the ads, though. But Facebook users who don’t fit the criteria of the target group likely never would learn about the openings, the article pointed out.

Facebook defended its practice in a letter posted online. Written by Rob Goldman, the company’s vice president of advertising, the letter says that “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 find work.”

The social media company isn’t the only online recruiter that allows employers to target younger job candidates. ProPublica reported it was able to buy job ads on Google and LinkedIn that excluded users of those sites older than 40. Google says it doesn’t prevent advertisers from displaying ads based on the user’s age. Since the article ran, LinkedIn has added a self-certification step that prevents employers from using age ranges unless the company affirms the ad is not discriminatory.


A class-action complaint alleging age discrimination was filed in December in federal court in San Francisco on behalf of the members of the Communications Workers of America. The union is suing Amazon, T-Mobile, and many other American employers and employment agencies that exclude older workers from receiving employment and recruitment ads on Facebook. In the complaint, the plaintiffs’ attorneys included screen shots of ads specifying preferential age ranges of candidates—which they found on Facebook by those and other companies, including job openings at Facebook itself.

The lawsuit argues that Facebook is playing the role of an employment agency: It collects and provides data that helps employers locate candidates—effectively working with them to develop advertising strategies and informing the recruiters about the ads’ performance.

Do you believe you’ve faced age discrimination in the hiring process, on Facebook or elsewhere?

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