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Airbnb closes accounts linked to white supremacy rally

Ben Johnson and Kristin Schwab Aug 11, 2017
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Airbnb closes accounts linked to white supremacy rally

Ben Johnson and Kristin Schwab Aug 11, 2017
Carl Court/Getty Images
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Airbnb has canceled accounts of users who planned to attend a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday. Gizmodo first reported the story and confirmed it with Airbnb. The company said in part: “In 2016 we established the Airbnb Community Commitment reflecting our belief that to make good on our mission of belonging, those who are members of the Airbnb community accept people regardless of their race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age. We asked all members of Airbnb to affirmatively sign on to this commitment.” It’s unclear how many users were banned.

There are plenty of stories about users being kicked off of apps and other platform for discriminatory behavior, like Tinder banning users who send others racist comments. And Airbnb has its own versions. The reservation of a guest in California was cancelled at the last-minute after receiving this message: “One word says it all. Asian.” Studies have found that hosts discriminate against black guests based on their names. And those with disabilities are more likely to not be approved by hosts. 

But Airbnb banning users who aren’t using the platform itself for discriminatory action is a different case. Hotels, for example, can’t cancel the reservations of guests headed to the same supremacist rally. But Airbnb is taking a companywide stance against racist behavior. Whether it was a business move or purely ideological stance is up for debate.

“Having these ideals and promoting an ideologically driven corporation that cares about not supporting racism … I think that will resonate with a lot of people who are Airbnb supporters,” said Dana Fisher, who studies individual and corporate activism at the University of Maryland.

Fisher thinks that the election of President Trump has changed how companies are approaching policies like these. As people have become more emboldened to speak out against minorities, companies have become more emboldened to take a stance of opposition. And more and more, consumers are using purchasing power for social good. Before, that was mostly reserved for people buying goods that have a social mission — think TOMS or Warby Parker. Now we’re seeing those branding ideals being passed on to service companies like Airbnb.

“I think corporations are starting to think that they need to take a stand in some ways about their perspectives on hate and discrimination,” Fisher said. “My guess is that the decision to deactivate those accounts was not made to gain consumers or money.”

To listen to Fisher’s full interview with Marketplace Tech’s Ben Johnson, click on the player above.

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