A Platform for Change?

Connecting the unemployed with jobs through Facebook

By Andrew R. Arthur on May 10, 2017

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has long been active in the "immigration reform" movement. Four years ago, he helped found FWD.us, an organization whose mission "is to mobilize the tech community to support policies that keep the American Dream achievable in the 21st century." As the group's website explains: "FWD.us has focused on immigration reform first because America's broken system prevents far too many talented immigrants from fully contributing to our communities and our economy."

It goes without saying, however (and would probably be conceded by Mr. Zuckerberg), that immigrants are not the only ones in the United States who are "prevent[ed] ... from fully contributing to our communities and our economy." Although the economy and the unemployment rate have improved significantly since 2009, there are still significant populations who are underemployed, or who have no jobs at all.

For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the unemployment rate in Issaquena County, Miss., in March 2017 was 15.6 percent; in Magoffin County, Ky., it was 18.9 percent, and in Colusa County, Calif., it was a whopping 21.8 percent. That is not to say that the workers who reside in those counties lack skills; rather, there are likely no jobs available that require the skills those workers possess.

When I was a judge, many, if not the majority of the aliens who appeared in my court because they had entered illegally had been working in the United States in the construction trades. Although a handful of those aliens were in entry-level positions, many were framers, hung sheetrock, or were finish carpenters. When asked, a significant number admitted that they were being paid $20 or more per hour. The employers who hired them were either ignorant of the fact that they lacked status, or needed the labor so much that they did not care.

Nor were the construction trades the only industry whose employees appeared before me. Mechanics, factory workers, and other skilled tradesmen made regular appearances in my court.

In the United States, there is almost definitely a match between the jobs that these individuals held and an American worker, citizen, or lawful permanent resident who was seeking employment. That worker, however, was probably not looking for employment in a place where there were jobs to be had.

There are many methods by which professionals can find employment. LinkedIn, for example, posts management, sales, engineering, information technology, healthcare, and finance jobs on its website, and regularly e-mails me about openings that require the skills that I have indicated I possess. Headhunters and recruiters are as ubiquitous in Washington, D.C., as lobbyists.

Other websites are available for job seekers in various areas of employment. Each of these, however, requires the knowledge that they exist and the skills to actively promote oneself as a potential employee. There are few if any passive means by which a worker in Luna County, N.M. (March 2017 unemployment rate of 18.0 percent) can be told about a job in, say, Chase County, Neb. (March 2017 unemployment rate of 1.8 percent), or Omaha, Neb., where the unemployment rate stands at 3.5 percent.

That is where Mr. Zuckerberg could help. According to Zephoria, worldwide, in March 2017, there were "1.94 billion monthly active Facebook users", and "1.28 billion people [who] log onto Facebook daily". The most common age demographic for Facebook (29.7 percent of all users) is people ages 25 to 34, a population that is in the prime working years of their lives. Incredibly, "as of May 2013 ... 4.75 billion pieces of content [were] shared daily" on Facebook. Most impressively, "Facebook has more monthly active users than WhatsApp (500 million), Twitter (284 million), and Instagram (200 million) — combined."

Facebook knows a lot about its users. The Google search "how much information does Facebook have" returns an incredible 146 million results. In April 2014, Facebook published an article captioned "Scaling the Facebook data warehouse to 300 PB" which states, humbly, that: "At Facebook, we have unique storage scalability challenges when it comes to our data warehouse." It continues:

Our warehouse stores upwards of 300 PB of Hive data, with an incoming daily rate of about 600 TB. In the last year, the warehouse has seen a 3x growth in the amount of data stored. Given this growth trajectory, storage efficiency is and will continue to be a focus for our warehouse infrastructure.

A "PB" or petabyte is "1,000,000,000,000,000 bytes;" just two PBs is the information at all U.S. academic research libraries. That is a lot of information.

How much does Facebook know about any individual user though? In December 2012, Wired published an article captioned "How much data did Facebook have on one man? 1,200 pages of data in 57 categories." It tells the story of Max Schrems, who, in "2010, while researching his thesis ... asked Facebook if it could send him all of the user data the company had relating to his own account."

In response:

Facebook was, in Schrems' words, "dumb enough" to send him all his data in a 1,200-page PDF. It showed that Facebook kept records of every person who had ever poked him, all the IP addresses of machines he had used to access the site (as well as which other Facebook users had logged in on that machine), a full history of messages and chats and even his "last location", which appeared to use a combination of check-ins, data gathered from apps, IP addresses and geo-tagged uploads to work out where he was.

As an August 2016 Gizmodo post with the title "All of the Creepy Things Facebook Knows About You" stated:

Facebook knows more about your personal life than you probably realize. As part of the company's increasingly aggressive advertising operation, Facebook goes to great lengths to track you across the web. The company compiles a list of personal details about every user that includes major life events and general interests. . . .

By compiling all of this information, the social media giant can begin to make conclusions about whether you're likely to be a parent, married, an expat, or intend to buy a vehicle. Then they sell you as a target to advertisers. The assumptions the company makes aren't always correct, but it doesn't matter. Facebook built a $355 billion empire almost entirely on this information, and it doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon.

The Washington Post lists the "98 personal data points that Facebook uses to target ads to you." This list is interesting in its entirety, but importantly it includes the user's location, age, income, and net worth, whether the user has a job, whether the user recently moved, and the user's "Employer ... Industry ... Job title ... [and] ... Office type."

People are likely willing to give Facebook access to this information because the website provides value to its users. That said, for years, privacy advocates have complained about the social media giant's practices and how it uses that information.

The validity of these complaints, however, are undercut to some degree by the fact that users can always opt out of using the site. That said, however, a company that relies on the goodwill of its (free) users could always blunt to some degree these otherwise reasonable concerns, and effectuate the goals of FWD.us, by doing more to assist its users in achieving the "American Dream".

Specifically, in much the same way that LinkedIn suggests possible employment opportunities to its users, Facebook could use its massive data pile to passively connect its users to job opportunities in parts of the country that they have not even considered.

Anecdotally, when I was a young lawyer in a bad job market for young lawyers, a friendly judge suggested that I consider a specific position in a city (San Francisco) that was 2,822 miles away from my term-limited job. With the support of my wife (who was willing to uproot and restart her fledgling career, and drive a rental box truck of our meager belongings for most of those miles), I applied for that job and found not only a position that fit my limited skills and enabled me to develop new ones, but also a mentor who was willing to advance my career. That first unsolicited lead made all the difference. Few skilled workers, however, likely have the advantage of being friends with somebody who is aware of job opportunities in the next state, let alone across the country.

The importance to one's well-being of having a job that fits your skills cannot be understated. President John F. Kennedy once noted that: "The Greeks defined happiness as the full use of your powers along lines of excellence." Judging from the effects of joblessness on those out of work in the United States, the lack of an opportunity to use one's "powers" can, inversely, lead one to destructive behavior and despair.

Notably, in July 2013, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that "[i]llegal drug use was 18 percent for the unemployed, followed by 10 percent for part-time workers, 8 percent for full-time workers, and less than 6 percent for those in the 'other' category, which includes retirees." More recently, in February 2017, the National Bureau of Economic Research "examine[d] how deaths and emergency department (ED) visits related to use of opioid analgesics (opioids) and other drugs vary with macroeconomic conditions." It concluded: "As the county unemployment rate increases by one percentage point, the opioid death rate per 100,000 rises by 0.19 (3.6%) and the opioid overdose ED visit rate per 100,000 increases by 0.95 (7.0%)." The strong link between being out of work and dangerous criminal drug use makes it clear that helping America's working population find jobs is not just an economic issue, but a public-health and law-enforcement issue, as well.

FWD.us states that: "We begin with a basic premise: every person should have the chance to contribute to our economy and society." Its founder should consider putting these words into action by using his powerful social network, Facebook, as an engine to connect the unemployed and underemployed with jobs across America. For example, in addition to unsolicited ads promoting car dealerships, vacation getaways, and gadgets that match the user's hobbies and interests, the site could detail job openings in the user's fields of experience and expertise. With that much data, the possibilities are endless.