Facebook Algorithms Tilt Job Ads by Gender

Researchers say practice may perpetuate imbalances in jobs and fields
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 9, 2021 5:10 PM CDT
Facebook Algorithms Tilt Job Ads by Gender
Instacart worker Saori Okawa loads groceries into her car for home delivery in San Leandro, Calif., last July. Researchers found women were more likely to be shown employment ads for Instacart on Facebook.   (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

Employers who want a demographically balanced pool of job applicants might not be getting it, despite their best efforts. Facebook often shows job ads to whichever gender already dominates that position or industry, researchers have found. The findings suggest bias remains in the site's algorithms, the Wall Street Journal reports. During a monitoring period near the end of last year, Facebook was disproportionately showing men ads for Domino's Pizza delivery drivers, while women were seeing ads for grocery shoppers for Instacart. The finding held true for jobs of various skill levels, including highly technical ones. That indicates "a platform whose algorithm learns and perpetuates the existing difference in employee demographics," the University of Southern California researchers wrote. Facebook said Friday it's taking steps against bias in ads.

"It's not that the user is saying, 'Oh, I’m interested in this.' Facebook has decided on behalf of the user whether they are likely to engage," said Aleksandra Korolova, the study's author. "And just because historically a certain group wasn’t interested in engaging in something, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have an opportunity to pursue it, especially in the job category." The practice could be at risk of violating anti-discrimination laws, per the AP. The federal government has said protected classes of people should not be disadvantaged by the way ads are presented. The study did not find evidence that ads are skewed on LinkedIn. The company said that agrees with its findings, though it's still concerned about the issue. Korolova said LinkedIn might be better at blocking bias, or Facebook might be better at recognizing users' cues and perpetuating gender imbalances. (More gender bias stories.)

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