Airbnb Kicks Alt-Right Extremists to the Curb Before Protest

August 11, 2017 - 2 minutes read

One of the recurring themes in the tech world during the Trump era so far is startups’ need to align their actions with their professed values. Twitter has had to find ways to fight trolling and abuse without completely squashing free speech. Facebook and Google are attempting to fight the fake news that propagated on their platforms during the election last year. Just this week, Google fired a software engineer over a controversial memo that alleged that the low number of women in tech was simply a matter of biological inferiority. As San Francisco Android app developers could have predicted, this 86ed software engineer has been hailed as something of a hero on the right, with his firing evidence of the very “ideological echo chamber” he rails against.

It’s not just Google earning the ire of the far right fringes this week. Airbnb has made enemies of white nationalists planning a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend. When the startup realized that its service was being used by neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates, Klansmen, and white supremacists, it started canceling bookings. It’s a move that many Android app developers approve of. Ironically, the alt-right protesters are calling out this action as discriminatory. But as University of Virginia law professor Deborah Hamilton notes, anti-discrimination laws “prohibit discrimination on the basis of specific enumerated grounds or traits – race, sex, disability, religion. And viewpoint or political ideology isn’t one of them.”

Still, Airbnb canceling possibly hundreds of bookings raises interesting questions about whether or not it’s good practice for a company to essentially boycott customers based on their political views. Most Android app developers understand where Airbnb is coming from: it just seems bad for business to have people with openly hateful views use your service. Interestingly, the Hotel Association of New York City just went after Airbnb this week with an attack ad that alleges that terrorists book lodgings using the app. Given that most terrorist attacks in America come from homegrown right wing terrorists, Airbnb’s actions in Charlottesville seem almost like an implicit counterargument to the hotel lobby’s fear-mongering.

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