On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed discrimination charges against Facebook and 10 other employers with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Facebook's advertising product includes a targeting tool that allows employers to make their ads visible to "all," or to male or female users specifically.
According to the ACLU's charges, employers used this tool to exclude "female and other non-male prospective job applications from receiving the job advertisements and opportunities." (When creating a Facebook profile, people may choose from over a dozen gender options, including male or female.)
In an emailed statement, Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne wrote, "There is no place for discrimination on Facebook; it’s strictly prohibited in our policies. We look forward to defending our practices once we have an opportunity to review the complaint.”
The 10 other employers named in the ACLU's complaint are Abas USA, Defenders, Nebraska Furniture Mart, City of Greensboro North Carolina, Need Work Today, Renewal by Andersen LLC, Rice Tire, JK Moving Services, Enhanced Roofing & Modeling, and Xenith.
On Wednesday, abas USA published a response to the ACLU's claims, which it calls "irresponsible and false." The company alleges that it did publish an ad targeted towards men, but that it also published an ad targeted towards women with identical text, but with an image of a woman instead.
Facebook has come under fire before for offering advertising options that enable discrimination: Advertisers were once allowed to exclude certain "ethnic affinities" from their ad audiences or to target users based on sexual orientation, before the company worked to remove the targeting options. ProPublica also reported in December 2017 that Facebook's ad targeting gave employers the option to exclude older workers from seeing job ads.
In an April 2018 blog post about ad targeting, Facebook wrote, "Advertising should be safe and civil. It should not divide or discriminate."
But, according the ACLU, Facebook "enables, encourages and assists employers to target advertisements" based on the user's gender. Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A response from abas USA has been added to the story.