NGO accuses Facebook of using discriminatory algorithms

NGO accuses Facebook of using discriminatory algorithms

The International NGO, Global Witness, has submitted a complaint to the Equality and Human Rights Commission in respect of allegedly discriminatory algorithms used by Facebook to promote job adverts in the UK. 

Global Witness has requested an investigation into whether the algorithms used to target and deliver job adverts breach the Equality Act 2010.

Global Witness reported the following figures regarding Facebook’s algorithm:

  • Mechanic jobs were shown to users who were 96% male.
  • Nursery nurse jobs were shown to users who were 95% female.
  • Pilot jobs were shown to users who were 75% male.
  • Psychologist jobs were shown to users who were 77% female.

The regulators are specifically requested to investigate and report on Facebook allegedly:

a) failing to prevent discriminatory targeting by employers posting job ads; and

b) discriminating against users through their algorithms that target ads at certain users based on data the company collect and process.

The NGO states “This was not due to manual targeting (i.e. the person submitting the advert opting to show it to one type of user over another), but instead due to the algorithms the social media platform itself offers through its ‘optimisation for ad delivery’ system.”  

Naomi Hirst, Head of the Digital Threats Campaign at Global Witness, said “It’s really shocking that Facebook’s own algorithm appears to target job ads in such a discriminatory way. Targeting adverts for nursery workers at women and mechanic jobs at men – what century does Facebook think we’re living in?!” 

Recruitment is viewed as the solution to increasing diversity and achieving equality but the above demonstrates we are nowhere close to achieving a level playing field.  Only a couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog about the use of gendered language in job adverts having the consequence of reducing female applicants by 10%.  However, how adverts are written means nothing if certain groups are precluded from even seeing them in the first place.    

This blog was brought to you by Tess Barrett, solicitor at didlaw