Men, Women See Different Job Listings on Facebook Due to Algorithm Bias, Research Shows
Facebook’s algorithm targets people for job listings based on their gender identity, new research has found.
The study revealed that Facebook ads for jobs in fields dominated by men were visible to men. Similarly, vacancies for jobs in fields that employ more women were more frequently visible to women. The bias operates across a broad spectrum of job listings — from both low-paying jobs to high-paying ones. In one example from the study, Facebook was more likely to show a woman an ad for a technical job at Netflix, which has a significant number of women employees, than an ad for a job at a graphics-chip maker, where fewer women are employed.
Conducted by researchers from the University of Southern California in the U.S., this study was an attempt to find out whether Facebook-ads target people disproportionately on the basis of their gender. Their research concluded that gender biases don’t just exist in Facebook’s algorithms governing the targets for specific job openings, but they’re “beyond what can be legally justified by possible differences in qualifications.” Further, the study termed Facebook as a “platform whose algorithm learns and perpetuates the existing difference in employee demographics.”
In countries like the U.S., gender-based discrimination in advertisements for employment, among other things, is illegal, the Wall Street Journal reported. While the same may not be per se illegal in every other country Facebook operates in, skewed gender ratios at work exist in most countries — and a World Economic Forum report from last month said that, at the present rate, it will take more than 135 years for women and men worldwide to achieve equality. Will Facebook’s algorithmic bias make it worse? We don’t know that yet, but we do know that gender inequality doesn’t just hurt women, it also hurts the global economy. In fact, a report published this year states that the world has lost $70 trillion to gender inequality in just 30 years.
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Amid an ongoing battle to reduce gender inequalities across the globe, the fact that Facebook is reinforcing biases, limiting employment options based on gender, and possibly preventing workplaces from achieving a more balanced gender ratio is worrisome, especially given the wide reach of the social media giant.
In the present climate, where the economic impact of the global pandemic has already resulted in women losing more jobs than men, gender-targeted job ads could reinforce a skewed workforce ratio and further limit women’s career prospects.
“We understand the concerns raised in the report,” Tom Channick, the company’s corporate communications manager, told The Verge in an email, adding that Facebook is working to remedy these biases. “We’ve taken meaningful steps to address issues of discrimination in ads and have teams working on ads fairness today. We’re continuing to work closely with the civil rights community, regulators, and academics on these important matters.”
But past studies have drawn attention to the biases embedded within Facebook’s algorithms. “We’ve known for years that Facebook’s job ads technology allows for direct or indirect discrimination like this, but the fact that it still happens like this without human intervention years after Facebook promised to do better is concerning,” Alex Perry, a technology reporter, wrote in Mashable. “Finding good work is difficult enough without some faceless algorithm keeping job listings away from you on the basis of your identity.
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