When Airbnb asked users to pledge to treat people equally, a lot refused

Users were asked to sign a non-discrimination pledge

airbnb stock logo office

The Airbnb logo outside the company's office in Toronto, Canada, on May 18, 2016.

Credit: OpenGridScheduler/Flickr

Stung by ongoing criticism and evidence that some of its hosts discriminated against non-white guests, Airbnb this month began asking users to pledge to treat everyone equally.

A lot have refused.

The so-called "community commitment" has been presented to Airbnb hosts and users since Nov. 1 and asks them to make a simple promise: 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."

Anyone declining to click the accept button has had their ability to host and book suspended and was given the option of canceling their account.

On Thursday, at an event held to launch a new trip-booking service, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky was asked how many of its users had declined the commitment.

"I don’t even know the number off the top of my head, but it was a lot," he told the BBC.

The company's commitment came about after studies and anecdotes suggested race played a part in whether some Airbnb bookings were accepted.

One study, by the Harvard School of Business, concluded would-be guests with names that are "distinctly African-American" are 16 percent less likely to have booking requests accepted than identical requests from guests with "distinctively white" names.

The study uncovered that discrimination is just as likely from large landlords as small ones but was most likely from hosts who have never had an African-American guest before. So while only a subset of Airbnb hosts was believed to discriminate, the platform itself allowed this to happen by showing a photo and name of a would-be guest when they asked about a booking.

The study lent support to claims of discrimination made by users, some of whom posted screenshots on social media with the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack.

One user, Quirtina Crittenden, detailed to NPR earlier this year how she faced problems booking accommodation, but how they disappeared when she changed her profile picture to a nondescript photograph of a city.

In response to these studies and claims, Airbnb commissioned a report on racism on the platform that concluded there had been "too many unacceptable instances of people being discriminated against on the Airbnb platform because of who they are or what they look like."

As a result, Airbnb was said to be doubling down on its efforts to fight the problem. November's community commitment has been perhaps the most visible product of those efforts to date.

Airbnb did not respond to a request for more information about how many people had declined to accept the commitment. 

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