Study suggests Facebook shows users different job ads based on their gender

Gender identity seemed to impact whether someone saw an employment ad for NVIDIA or Netflix.

Toby Melville / Reuters

Researchers from the University of Southern California found that Facebook showed different job ads to men and women at disproportionate levels. In tests that the researchers carried out late last year, they determined that men were more likely to see recruitment ads for delivery driver roles at Domino’s Pizza or software engineering jobs at NVIDIA, while women were disproportionately shown listings for equivalent positions at Instacart and Netflix.

The study suggests there was a higher chance of Facebook displaying an employment ad to users if their gender identity aligned with certain industries or jobs where people of that gender were more prevalent.

The researchers wrote that Facebook is “a platform whose algorithm learns and perpetuates the existing difference in employee demographics.” That appeared to be the case even when an employer sought to reach a balanced audience in terms of demographics with their job ads, the paper suggests. On LinkedIn, the researchers found no signs of recruitment ads being shown disproportionately based on gender identity.

The paper raises questions about Facebook’s attempts to reduce bias in its systems. “We’ve taken meaningful steps to address issues of discrimination in ads and have teams working on ads’ fairness today," a Facebook spokeswoman told The Wall Street Journal.

Facebook has gotten into trouble in the past over discriminatory ads. In 2019, the Department of Housing and Urban Development sued Facebook over alleged Fair Housing Act violations. HUD said Facebook enabled housing discrimination via ad targeting. The company settled the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, Facebook this week announced an AI dataset that was created by asking people to share their age and gender. The goal was to make a fairer dataset that could help to reduce AI bias.

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