AIRBNB HAS HAD TROUBLE FIGHTING discrimination for a long time. Last year, a study found that it was harder for guests with “black-sounding” names to get a room on the site. Because people who host on Airbnb do not go through a significant vetting process, it’s easy for bigots, racists, and misogynists to slip through. Hosts have final say on who stays at their place, so it’s easy for discrimination to fly under the radar.
But as of yesterday, Airbnb is requiring all users to agree to a “Community Commitment.” The community commitment outlaws discrimination based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity. It will allow hosts to refuse people on the basis of gender in some cases. For example, women who are living in their homes while hosting can ask for only women guests. But hosts can no longer refuse guests on the basis of religious grounds.
In regards to hosting LGBT guests, Airbnb says:
“While your views may be different than those of your guests, please remember that being an Airbnb host does not require that you endorse all of your guests’ beliefs, but simply that you respect the fact that such differences exist and be inclusive despite the differences.
There are legitimate reasons to refuse a guest, according to Airbnb. You can refuse people who want to bring their pets, you can refuse guests who have received poor reviews in the past, you can refuse smokers, etc. But Airbnb is acknowledging that some people may use these legitimate reasons as an excuse to refuse people for more discriminatory reasons. People who do this will now be subject to suspension from the site.
What does this mean for the future?
Not all discrimination is done consciously, which means that the problem will likely not be totally solved with this measure. It’s also impossible for guests who are discriminated against to sue: when you agree to their Terms of Service, you agree not to sue the company. This makes it difficult for the courts to force Airbnb to change its policies.
But this is a pretty huge step forward. The changes are being implemented worldwide, which Airbnb didn’t need to do if it just wanted to cover its ass. And they are now offering unconscious bias training to their hosts and their employees. On the whole, this is a real and substantive step towards ending discrimination on the platform. While there are still plenty of issues with Airbnb, this is a pretty huge step forward.
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