Ed West Ed West

Airbnb relies on discrimination. So why is it so bothered by Trump’s travel ban?

Much of the fiercest opposition to the Trump regime has come from large corporations. The most recent example is Airbnb, whose Superbowl advert showed a group of people alongside a message saying: ‘We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love or who you worship, we all belong’. It was a clear attack on the president’s nationalist policies.

We use Airbnb quite a bit, both as hosts and guests, and it is a fantastic business. On top of the extra cash it allows people to earn, it does bring some solid social benefits, perhaps the biggest of which is that, because of online reputations, it encourages people to behave in a very civil and considerate way. It also encourages trade, exchange and interaction with people from different parts of the world. This is the miracle of capitalism, which for several centuries has been the greatest force for social progress, liberalism and peace the world has ever known.

But the entire Airbnb business model also depends on hosts being able to discriminate in choosing who comes to their home, and if these homeowners were subject to the same anti-discrimination laws as hotels, the system would collapse instantly, as it depends on trust and reputation. Indeed, there is a great amount of evidence that Airbnb hosts do racially discriminate, which the company finds embarrassing and takes seriouslyIt’s this fact that makes Airbnb’s pinkwashing so odd, even more so than Budweiser’s curious historical analogy between German immigration in the 19th century and today’s situation.

The people who run Airbnb are presumably quite smart, so I wonder how much they believe they can actually eliminate this prejudice. The site’s hosts use coarse discrimination based on the belief that people with certain characteristics are more likely to be bad guests; this is found through all sorts of areas of life, including employment.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.


Unlock more articles



Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in