Airbnb pledges to remove hate group members from platform

US: Airbnb is pledging to remove white nationalists and hate group members from its platform, following the violent storming of the Capitol building in Washington D.C. last week.

That includes the Proud Boys, which was classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group and has been associated with white nationalist ties and violence by the FBI. The group’s leader, Enrique Tarrio, was arrested last Tuesday for allegedly burning a local Black church’s Black Lives banner, a matter being investigated by police as a potential hate crime.

The Metropolitan Police Department enforced a curfew and blocked off downtown streets to prevent clashes between far-right insurrectionists and counter demonstrators, although this is believed to have been focused on the protest sites and not the neighbourhood areas where the former had been staying.

It came as downtown hotels and bars, recognised as popular meeting places for the Proud Boys and Trump supporters closed their doors for several days before the rally, however protestors were still reportedly able to reserve stays at other hotels and Airbnbs that were vacant at the time.

Some neighbours criticised Airbnb for not shutting down all reservations in metropolitan Washington for a week in anticipation for the violence which eventually unfolded at the Capitol.

Airbnb spokesperson Ben Breit said: “Our community policies ban domestic terrorist and violent hate group members. In the days leading up to the terrible incident in Washington, we learned of reservations made by certain members of these groups and cancelled those reservations and removed them from our community, and we will continue to take appropriate action.”

The platform had earlier threatened to remove any of its users who booked stays in order to attend the “Unite the Right 2” rally in Washington DC. Back in November, Airbnb also blocked a reservation by Proud Boys member Ronald Gaudier, one of the 1.4 million users it claims to have banned, including “members of dangerous organisations, including terrorist, organised criminal, and violent racist groups”.

Last year, Airbnb announced a number of steps to prevent gatherings during the Covid-19 pandemic, including implementing a global party ban in August and adding new restrictions to halt New Year’s Eve parties last month.

In an FAQ displayed on its website, Airbnb states that hosts can decline or cancel a reservation without any penalties if they feel their safety is at risk. However, penalty-free cancellations after a guest has already checked in are stricter, and Airbnb will only apply its Extenuating Circumstances Policy to a specified list of events, including the death or unexpected injury of a host, or government-mandated obligations.

Hosts concerned that they may have hate group members staying in their home are advised to call the company’s Urgent Safety Line, while neighbours can get in touch with Airbnb via its portal or hotline at (855) 635 7754.