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How Age Discrimination on Digital Platforms is affecting the Hiring Process

Age discrimination in recruitment was brought into the spotlight towards the end of 2017. A group of the United States' largest hirers were criticized for their alleged circumvention of existing age discrimination laws, by placing adverts through social media sites such as Facebook.

COMMERCIALCafé study into particular trends in the workforce looked into how companies like Amazon, Verizon, Goldman Sachs, and Facebook itself had seemingly targeted particular age groups in their recruitment process.

A study by ProPublica and The New York Times also drew major attention to the practices of these major corporations, in their hiring activities. Facebook - who provides a function to target a precise audience via advertisements based on user selection - was heavily criticized for allowing and partaking in the running of such advertisements.

Employers were accused of manipulating the Facebook business model to exclude older workers from seeing such advertisements. Just what this means for the relevance of existing anti-ageist laws was brought into the debate. A number of experts suggested that the practice of targeted adverts may be against the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.

The act essentially prohibits any form of bias against those aged 40 or above in hiring or employment. Depending on where you are located in the country, it may be a crime to "aid" or "abet" age discrimination. This could have drastic effects on the function of Facebook advertising under current laws.

"It's blatantly unlawful," Debra Katz, a Washington employment lawyer who represents victims of discrimination, said.

Facebook adopted a more defensive approach, however, arguing that 'responsible use' should be the aim of any employer searching for candidates through their platform.

"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," said Rob Goldman, a Facebook vice president.

ProPublica and the Times attempted to contact a number of the companies under the spotlight. Amazon, Northwestern Mutual and the New York City Department of Education, had said that they were actively changing their recruiting processes on the basis of the findings (via CNBC).

"We recently audited our recruiting ads on Facebook and discovered some had targeting that was inconsistent with our approach of searching for any candidate over the age of 18," said Nina Lindsey, a spokeswoman for Amazon, which targeted some ads for workers at its distribution centers between the ages of 18 and 50. "We have corrected those ads."

Verizon failed to respond to requests for their stance on the issue.

"What happens with Facebook is you don't know what you don't know," said former general counsel for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, David Lopez. As one of the lawyers at the firm Outten & Golden - who is bringing the age-discrimination case on behalf of the communication workers union - Lopez will aim to delve even deeper into how such discrimination can seemingly slip through the cracks due to antiquated laws on ageism via digital platforms.