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The Airbnb Blacklist

Do you now or have you ever held political opinions despised by Airbnb management? Then go to Motel 6, bigot

A group of neo-Nazis and white nationalists are converging on Charlottesville, Virginia, for a rally. That’s bad news. But there’s worse news, via The Washington Post:

But visitors might have a problem nailing down accommodations. As city leaders worked overtime Monday trying to defuse an increasingly tense situation, the room-sharing company Airbnb quietly booted users planning to use the service to find housing.

The company confirmed they had taken action in a statement to NBC29: “When through out background check processes or from input of our community we identify and determine that there are those who would be pursuing behavior on the platform that would be antithetical to the Airbnb Community Commitment, we seek to take appropriate action including, as in this case, removing them from the platform.”

That stance didn’t sit well with the rally’s organizer, Jason Kessler.

“This is outrageous and should be grounds for a lawsuit,” Kessler told The Washington Post in an email Monday night. “It’s the racial targeting of white people for their ethnic advocacy.” Kessler added the rally “is opposed to the historical and demographic displacement of white people. Would Airbnb cancel the service of black nationalists or Black Lives Matter activists for their social media activity? Of course not!”

That. Is. Stunning.

Notice what Airbnb did. They ran background checks on these people, determined that they were going to a far-right political rally, and refused them accommodation. Not only did they refuse them accommodation at this particular event, they have blacklisted them forever. As the reader who brought this story to my attention writes:

While White Nationalists are, obviously, vile, this is still an extraordinary precedent. Assuming these folks didn’t say in the comments for their reservations that they were in town to attend the rally, it means that AirBNB either investigated itself or relied on other people’s reports of who was attending the rally, cross-listed that with accounts, and then banned those people. That’s a way more aggressive enforcement of PC politics than what Google did, which at least involved active speech by an employee.

It doesn’t take a genius to know that, in the eyes of many people who work at places like AirBNB, attending a rally against SSM or immigration is essentially the same as attending a Klan rally. And because of the way it’s set up, AirBNB (like Uber and Twitter and most other tech or sharing economy companies) isn’t considered a “public accommodation”, and so there’s nothing legally preventing them from acting this way.

This of course, will provoke a massive backlash. It’s a classic collective action problem in economics. When there is some kind of identitarian conflagration, there are a small number of Leftists who care A LOT that a company take action (like AirBnB or Google). But there are a lot of people who are just a little bit pushed towards white/male identity politics (alt-right) as a result. The net result, over time, will be to continue to promote the alt-right. It is a vicious cycle.

For the record, I believe Airbnb has the right to decide who gets to use their service. I would never open my home or property as an Airbnb place precisely because there are all kinds of people I would not want staying in my home (like, for example, neo-Nazis, but also no doubt some people who would pass muster with Airbnb corporate). That said, the idea that a company would search out the political opinions of those wanting to buy its services and blacklist people over them is scary as hell. Where does it stop?

Nobody feels sorry for neo-Nazis who won’t have a place to stay in Charlottesville. But as the reader points out, this is a truly frightening precedent: Companies doing online searches to see if you are politically correct enough to do business with, and banning you not because of anything you did, necessarily, but because of what you believe. Today they’re banning neo-Nazis from using their service. Tomorrow they’ll ban people who travel to a town for a Trump rally. And the day after tomorrow, they’ll ban Southern Baptists.

Will people now start reporting their conservative neighbors to Airbnb? Will Airbnb homeowners start googling those who want to rent from them, and if they don’t like their politics, inform on them to Airbnb to get them blacklisted? Again: where does it stop?

I’ve said it often, and I’ll keep saying it: Social Justice Warriors have no idea at all what kinds of demons they are summoning.

UPDATE: Forgot to say, this is hardcore Law Of Merited Impossibility stuff: “Airbnb will never ban Southern Baptists, and when it does, those bigots will deserve it.”