Can advertising vacancies on social media be discriminatory?

We all know we are in the middle of a recruitment crisis.

Latest figures put the number of vacancies in the UK jobs market at 1.1 million – the highest it has been since records were first taken.

So it’s hugely important to any employer that when they advertise a vacancy they get plenty of visibility for their money.

That’s why so many employers have turned to social media to fill vacancies in recent years. Quite simply, the social media platforms reach areas traditional job ads don’t – and for little cost in many cases.

But there’s now some concern that posting a job ad on social media might be discriminatory because of the way the various platforms operate.

Legal experts at human rights organisation Global Witness have filed complaints to the UK’s equality watchdog after claiming the social media giant’s own algorithm was biased in determining who could see posts and that the organisation failed to prevent discriminatory targeting of ads.

Global Witness drew up to ads for Facebook to approve and asked the company not to show one to women and the other to people over the age of 55.

Both ads were approved, although Facebook did ask Global Witness to tick a box to pledge not to discriminate against the groups. The ads were never published because Global Witness withdrew them before they went live.

In a separate test the group submitted adverts for a range of jobs typically associated with one gender – and found that the ads were largely shown to people from that gender group.  In one, a job for a mechanic was shown to a 96 per cent male audience.

Global Witness has now asked the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission to look into the issue, whilst Facebook has said it will review Global Witness’s findings.

Of course, the answer to our question about whether advertising on social media is discriminatory has yet to be tested in the courts.

But the case – even as it stands at the moment – is a reminder that anti-discrimination laws exist for a reason and are not limited to old-fashioned or traditional advertising and recruitment techniques.

If you rely on just one outlet to advertise your vacancy, you run the risk of targeting a narrow group which might in turn be discriminatory. Much better to spread you budget across a number of channels to show that you are serious about reaching as diverse an audience as possible.  

And of course you need to be spot on with your wording to ensure you don’t rule out any candidates on the basis of protected characteristics, as defined in the Equality Act.

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