Black Caucus urges Airbnb to take reports of racism seriously

Airbnb has been under fire recently for some bad, racist behavior by hosts on its platform. Now, the Congressional Black Caucus is urging Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky to take further action in addressing the issues of racism and discrimination on Airbnb’s platform. In a letter addressed to Chesky, the CBC notes how Title II of 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in places like hotels and motels on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin.

To Airbnb’s credit, Airbnb permanently removed the racist host in North Carolina, and later said that it would review how hosts and guests interact and try to do more to ensure that guests are treated fairly. Chesky also recently said that Airbnb has zero tolerance for prejudice and bias on the platform and that in the next few months, the company will “be revisiting the design of our site from end to end to see how we can create a more inclusive platform,” Chesky said at the company’s Open Air technical conference earlier this month. “We’re open to ideas. It’s a really, really hard problem and we need help solving it. We want to move this forward. I myself have engaged with people who have been victims of discrimination on the platform. We take this seriously.”

The CBC has commended Airbnb in initiating a comprehensive review of the interactions on the platform, but asks that the review provide answers to these four questions:

  1. Why is it seemingly so easy to discriminate against someone via Airbnb’s internet platform?
  2. Do you have data with regard to racial, ethnic, gender, or other types of discrimination on the Airbnb internet platform currently in use? If so, what does the data show?
  3. What is Airbnb doing at present to address this glaring issue of discrimination?
  4. Will Airbnb consider implementing some common sense measures to avoid discrimination of their customers like those suggested by Dr. Michael Luca in the June 2, 2016, Washington Post article which suggested fixes such as “downplaying when and where Airbnb displays guests’ pictures and names; increasing the use of the instant booking feature that eliminates the subjective dialogue with hosts deciding which reservations to book; and converting Airbnb’s anti-discrimination policy into regular notices each time someone books a reservation.”

“Racism and any form of discrimination should never be tolerated in our society,” Chairman G.K. Butterfield said in a statement. “Members of the CBC are deeply concerned about recent reports of exclusion of African Americans on the Airbnb platform, and we sincerely hope the leadership of Airbnb will take the issue of discrimination seriously and implement common sense measures to prevent such discrimination and ill-treatment of its customers in the future.”

In a statement to TechCrunch, Airbnb said the following:

We appreciate Congressmen Butterfield and Cleaver’s letter and absolutely share their concern. Discrimination has no place on our platform. As the Congressmen noted in their letter we are conducting an extensive review of how our hosts and guests interact with one another online and off. We will apply what we learn to help ensure that everyone, including African American travelers, are treated fairly and with dignity and respect.

We are engaged with a range of leaders on this important issue, and we will soon be meeting with CBC officials and other civil rights leaders to discuss progress on reaching our shared goals of a more fair, just and inclusive society.