Social Media Discrimination


  1. Social media platforms are used for recruiting job candidates, placing housing ads and selling real estate – all of which are federally regulated activities.
  2. Lawsuits continue to increase against companies using Facebook to place ads which exclude potential candidates from jobs and housing.
  3. Ensure your recruitment or housing ads comply with federal and other laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender, race, age etc.

Social Media Discrimination Lawsuits Continue

In December 2017, dozens of companies including Amazon, Goldman Sachs, Target, Verizon, UPS and Facebook were found to be posting ads targeted specifically at younger age groups.

Verizon, one of the companies named in the lawsuit, had placed an ad on Facebook to recruit applicants for a department focused on financial planning and analysis. The ad showed a smiling, millennial-aged woman seated at a computer. The ad promised that new hires could look forward to a rewarding career in which they would be “more than just a number.”

The promotion was set to run on the Facebook feeds of users 25 to 36 years old who lived in or had recently visited Washington D.C. and had shown an interest in finance. Only people targeted specifically by this ad saw the ad, also known as a “dark post”. This meant that the majority of people on Facebook did not see the ad at all, including older candidates.

A class-action complaint alleging age discrimination was filed in federal court in San Francisco in December, 2017, on behalf of the Communications Workers of America and its members. The suit includes Facebook users 40 or older who may have been denied the chance to learn about job openings.

This week, another lawsuit was filed against Facebook by three female job candidates, the Communications Workers of America and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The complaint alleges that Facebook enabled discriminatory job postings with its ad-targeting system.

10 employers were also named in the lawsuit. The suit alleges that these companies used Facebook to exclusively target jobs at men for jobs as police officers, truck drivers and sports store sales reps.

Federal laws prohibit employers, lenders, insurers and landlords from excluding people from advertising on the basis of “protected categories,” which include gender, race, national origin, religion, age, military status, disability and sexual orientation.

Does Facebook’s Ad Targeting Feature Allow Discrimination?

Display Ads in Facebook have a feature known as “Why Am I Seeing This Ad?” – a dropdown option that appears when you hover over the ad. This option allows you to see an explanation of why you’re seeing that Ad. The explanation includes demographic characteristics that describe the audience that the ad is targeting. Here’s an example of a shoe ad we saw recently by SeaVees:

Facebook Ad Targeting

This example illustrates how an advertiser uses Facebook’s ad targeting system to focus its ads on specific audiences.

In March, 2018, the National Fair Housing Alliance and three of its member organizations filed a lawsuit in federal court in New York for similar reasons. The Alliance investigated Facebook’s ad practices by creating fake realty firms and submitting dozens of housing ads to Facebook for review.

The lawsuit alleges that Facebook provided the fake firms with pre-populated lists of people they could choose to exclude from seeing the ads, including men, women or families with children.

This type of targeting could allow landlords and real estate companies to illegally tailor their ads to discriminate against protected categories of people.

In July 2018, Facebook signed a legally binding agreement with the state of Washington’s attorney general agreeing to remove the potential for advertisers to exclude users from housing, employment, insurance and credit ads on the basis of national origin, military status, disability, religion or race. Facebook also agreed to take responsibility if these types of ads were targeted improperly at those users and has since removed the ability to target ads to users based on multicultural affinity groups.

Federal Regulations Protect Against Discrimination

Employers, real estate and housing companies, landlords and others who use Facebook to target ads should take extra care when targeting specific audience segments to ensure they aren’t violating federal, state or other discrimination laws.

In the United States, various employment, housing and other laws are in place to protect people in certain “classes” or groups from discrimination. These federal and state statutes outline how these “classes” are protected.

These classes include:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • National Origin
  • Age (people over 40)
  • Gender Identity/Sex
  • Pregnancy
  • Citizenship
  • Familial status
  • Genetics/Color
  • Veteran status
  • Physical or mental disability status

The most important federal statute that prohibits workplace discrimination is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

Individual states have also created other classes of employment protection under state law.

Avoid Discrimination in Social Media

Discrimination of protected classes via social media is illegal and can be costly and time-consuming to remedy. Many companies are now outsourcing recruiting work to third parties to reduce the risk of potential lawsuits, insulate in-house HR teams and hiring managers and to avoid being accused of potential discrimination.

If you’re an employer using Facebook or other social media platforms to place job ads, you may need to review your targeting methods and parameters.

If you’re a landlord, property management or real estate company using social media to place housing ads, review your audience targeting for potential problems.

Contact us at if you need assistance with outsourcing, planning or reviewing your ad campaigns or audience targeting.