A few days ago, i received an email from AirBnB detailing their new community commitment. Faced with multiple highly public instances of discrimination, harassment, and outright hostility, AirBnB has been struggling for a while with how to maintain a safe and non-discriminatory platform for its users. I’ll caveat this post here. I love the idea of AirBnB. I never use it. I never use it for the specific reason that I’m well aware of the levels of discrimination on AirBnB and other rental sharing platforms and I’m just not that interested in potentially subjecting myself to the stress of wondering if a listing that was available suddenly becomes unavailable because someone didn’t like the look of my profile picture. I also typically vacation places where hotels are plentiful and I’m guaranteed a general quality of experience. Starwood/Mariott and Kimpton don’t seem to much care what I look like and I like to keep it that way. All that said, I was encouraged by AirBnB’s efforts and I applaud them for taking the steps.

You can view AirBnB’s statement here

And you can view a PDF of the email here:

Yesterday, I received my usual LinkedIn update email and noticed a post referencing the AirnBnB email. It was clickbait and I bit. A “Keynote speaker, Moderator, and Host” named Tony Chapman took issue with AirBnB’s email and wrote following post. You can read the original post here. I’ve added my thoughts in bold below.

Airbnb sent me this email/threat this morning and it pissed me off. It was preachy and then punishing if I didn’t fall into their line. Am I over reacting or are they overstepping their role a a brand? Have they gone from the ‘cool friend’ that helped me travel cheap, to being the big corporation now dictating terms. (Well, I mean they already have a terms of service agreement that dictates a bunch of stuff sooo…)

Here is their email…..

Hi,

Earlier this year, we launched a comprehensive effort to fight bias and discrimination in the Airbnb community. As a result of this effort, we’re asking (actually telling if you read on) everyone to agree to a Community Commitment beginning November 1, 2016. Agreeing to this commitment will affect your use of Airbnb, so we wanted to give you a heads up about it.

What is the Community Commitment?

You commit to treat everyone—regardless of race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age—with respect, and without judgment or bias.

How do I accept the commitment?

On or after November 1, we’ll show you the commitment when you log in to or open the Airbnb website, mobile or tablet app and we’ll automatically ask you to accept. (airbnb – isn’t this a demand or actually an order?

What if I decline the commitment?

If you decline the commitment, you won’t be able to host or book using Airbnb, (so airbnb if I don’t agree with your brand, I can’t stay in a persons home that you broker? that you have no equity in?) and you have the option to cancel your account. Once your account is canceled, future booked trips will be canceled. You will still be able to browse Airbnb but you won’t be able to book any reservations or host any guests.

Signed

The Airbnb Team

What I liked about their intentions
I have no problem with the principles of their code. Most of us try and live that way. (Most of us try not to murder people, but we still have some regulations for those that do)

I also applaud and support corporations who go beyond the immediate gratification of profit and invest in ways that positively impact the lives of people, and the livelihood of our planet. I especially admire the ones that do it quietly.

I don’t like to be preached to or threatened by anyone – especially a brand
I am tired of being preached to and threatened or punished if I don’t agree to follow a point of view. (Aha! The meat of the issue! One of the easy things to do when you’re likely never the subject of discrimination is to view nondiscrimination as a point of view. It’s not. Especially as it relates to housing, there’s a long, well-documented history in which the denial of real estate to women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community has created material harm. This isn’t about some esoteric theory, this actually takes money out of people’s hands or creates situations in which people have to pay more money specifically because of a non-controllable physical factor. The fact that the author sees this as merely a “point of view” is telling. But more telling is the knee-jerk defensiveness to being denied the ability t discriminate. Unlike any of a million other agreements and standards that people agree to in business transactions, something about not discriminating seems “threatening” or “preachy”.)

It’s how the USA election is being fought. It’s the playbook of most religions. It is why the sabres rattle in Foreign Policy as one country tries to dictate to another their ‘code of conduct’.

airbnb is doing the same thing. Their demand… You commit to treat everyone—regardless of race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age—with respect, and without judgment or bias.

If you don’t fall in line….Or you can’t book or host with Airbnb.

Really?

Coke doesn’t deny me their product until I have proved I have exercised.

Apple doesn’t deny me their iPod if I choose to download hate or bad country and western music.

Dyson doesn’t deny me their vacuum cleaner until I agree to clean everywhere, even under the heavy sofa.

(These are weird analogies. They have nothing to do with an agreement between customer and service provider. If the author wanted to be intellectually honest, he could potentially have compared, say, a Burger King franchise agreement or a Lift contract”

airbnb brand just coughed up a nasty hairball
Where does Airbnb, an organization that has only 8 years history on this planet, have the audacity to tell me what my judgement and bias should be? (Well, it occurs to me they’re letting you have all the bias and prejudice you want. Just not on their platform.)

airbnb is a well oiled on line toll booth
One could argue that airbnb is different. That their business is different than Coke or Dyson – as it involves human-to-human transactions. My counter is really – what that they are brokering my or your home. They are a well oiled, on line toll booth and they are very lucky to have both of us to collect their tariffs.

I hate to disappoint the Leaders of airbnb but we all have our own judgement and bias. Our own community code. We are born with our ‘spider sense’, our ‘fight or flight syndrome’ and intuition. Our Parents and our upbringing shape them. It’s how we learn to make decisions, some on the fly and some thoughtful. (This is interesting. This reads to me like a kind of lead-in to justifying those judgments and biases.)

And yes, sadly, there are a lot of people on this planet with ugly prejudices and racism.

Who we are and how we view the world are ingrained in us by our parents and our surroundings. We also have baked into our human DNA ‘spider sense’, our ‘fight or flight’ syndrome, and our intuition. It’s how we make decisions.

I wish a magic wand could be waved over this planet and people would treat other people equally and well. It doesn’t work that way.

Consumer behavour has shifted from trusting brands to trusting strangers
airbnb is an extraordinary engine that is helping to power a new economy based on sharing. In the sharing economy, consumer behaviour has shifted from trusting brands to trusting strangers. We now hook up with strangers on Tinder, get driven around in strangers cars, stream content and sell stuff to strangers and yes sleep in their beds.

In the sharing economy we mitigate risk through our own judgements and biases
However most consumers mitigate the risks that go with an economy of sharing with strangers through their own judgements and bias. (Boom. Justifies judgments and biases as being legitimate. I called this earlier, didn’t I?)

Signing airbnb’s Community Code will not impact my choice in what strangers I choose to ‘host’ in my home, and what strangers home and neighbourhood I choose to sleep in. If you are a single mother with children, hoping to make a few bucks with your guest bedroom – then you should be allowed to discriminate and only host woman, or elderly people, or whomever brings you peace of mind. (Complete gaslighting here)

Call me prejudice if you want. However my judgement, biases and freedom to choose are things I am unwilling to surrender. (I don’t have a data point to know if the author is “prejudice” or not, but someone who’s so invested in reserving the right to discriminate against people is probably exactly the kind of host AirBnB needs to purge)

The interesting part about these kinds of articles are always the comments. This one particularly resonated with me.

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The author’s entire sense of grievance at the idea of non-discrimination and his insistence on viewing his own biases as somehow being right and legitimate is disturbing. He makes a great point in that no amount of changes to terms of service will change people’s ingrained views. But if these efforts on the part of AirBnB do just enough to make people like this self-select out of using the service, it will go a long way to making me more likely to becoming a customer of AirBnB’s.