Facebook advert warning – Baines Wilson

Joanne Holborn, Baines Wilson LLP

Businesses that use Facebook adverts to recruit staff are being warned they could unwittingly fall foul of equality legislation.

Commercial law firm Baines Wilson is highlighting new research that suggests Facebook’s algorithms could be discriminatory.

The campaign group Global Witness placed job adverts on Facebook to test the effect of algorithms designed to optimise ad delivery.

It found that 96 per cent of people shown an advert for a mechanic’s job were men, while 95 per cent shown a job ad for a nursery were women.

Likewise, 77 per cent of those shown an ad to recruit a psychologist were women and 75 per cent shown an ad for a pilot were men.

Global Witness argues that these findings show Facebook’s algorithms are discriminatory because their effect is to disadvantage a would-be job applicant who is not shown a particular advert because of their sex. 

It has submitted formal complaints to the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Baines Wilson, which has offices in Carlisle and Lancaster, says that businesses using Facebook ads for recruitment could potentially face discrimination claims themselves if the algorithms are found to breach the Equality Act 2010.

This legislation covers all stages of the recruitment process including the manner in which a job is advertised.

Joanne Holborn, (pictured) partner and head of employment at Baines Wilson, said: “While Global Witness’ accusations are primarily against Facebook, it remains to be seen whether customers of Facebook – that are utilising the job advert tool – are similarly in danger of falling foul of anti-discrimination laws.

“Employers need to be assured that placing a job advert on the social media platform will not put themselves in jeopardy of non-compliance too.” 

Facebook is considering changes to its targeted ad feature in the light of Global Witness’ report.

The company 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 the 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.”

For more on the latest employment law issues check Baines Wilson’s website –  https://www.baineswilson.co.uk/ – or contact the employment teams in Carlisle on 01228 552600 or Lancaster on 01524 548494. 

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