A Fair Community for Everyone

By David King, Director of Diversity

In recent days, there have been reports about people who were discriminated against because of their race when they tried to book an Airbnb listing. Racial discrimination is unacceptable and it flies in the face of our mission to bring people together.

We take this issue incredibly seriously and we want you to know more about how we address this matter.

We have clear goals: we want to eliminate unconscious bias in the Airbnb community and fight discrimination. Airbnb has demonstrated the ability to bring people together and make it easier for more people to explore the world and we’ve seen how the simple act of sharing a home can unite people from all walks of life. We want to bring people together and fight the hidden biases that can prevent people from connecting.

We realize these goals will be difficult to reach and we have a lot to learn, as we are confronting an age-old problem. Discrimination based on race has plagued societies for centuries and sadly, this kind of contemptible behavior takes place online and offline. We are a company that has developed a truly global people-to-people platform and every day, we learn an unbelievable amount from our community. While no single company is going to eliminate discrimination in the world, we have long been committed to fighting discrimination and working to eliminate unconscious bias on our platform.

As a starting point, we have policies in place that prohibit discrimination on our platform. We prohibit content that promotes discrimination, bigotry, racism, hatred, harassment or harm against any individual or group, and we require all users to comply with local laws and regulations. We have removed hosts from our community who discriminate against guests because of their race or sexual orientation or other factors and we will continue to do so.

We also offer a feature called Instant Book that makes certain listings available to be booked on demand. Instant Book helps ensure guests can book an Airbnb listing without prior host approval of a specific guest. Right now, we have 550,000 listings around the world available for Instant Book. There is no additional fee for confirming a reservation with Instant Book and you can filter your search to only view listings that are available through Instant Book.

Going forward, we are taking a series of steps to build on our current policies and help achieve our goals. Some of this work includes:

  • Unconscious Bias Training. Studies have shown that many people have biases they never think about. Fighting unconscious bias is difficult, but there are proven trainings that can work. We made unconscious bias training available to over 5,000 hosts who attended the Airbnb Open, and we will conduct additional trainings for hosts both in-person in key markets and through webinars before the end of the year. We will evaluate the effectiveness of this program to inform subsequent trainings.
  • A Bigger Spotlight on Reviews. Recently, we’ve conducted research about trust with experts at Stanford University. Not surprisingly, the research revealed we are more likely to trust people with similar characteristics — it’s a natural social bias researchers call homophily. But the same research found that reputation systems — like the star ratings on Airbnb — are even more powerful. The research found that when people were choosing who to trust, reputation scores were more important than whether users shared similar characteristics. In short, high reputation beats high similarity.

There’s still a lot of work to be done in this field (this particular study didn’t examine race) but we think doing more to promote the reviews members of the Airbnb community receive from one another is one promising way to fight bias and discrimination. We’re exploring the best ways to achieve that goal.

  • Strengthened Customer Service. Our Customer Experience Team has helped millions of travelers have a positive trip, but we’re constantly trying to do more for our community. In the coming months, we will enhance the trainings these teams receive to include specific instruction on how to identify and combat hosts who may be inappropriately refusing to share their space with certain guests.
  • Fighting Bias With Technology. Our data science teams will closely examine machine learning models and other tech tools we can use to help enforce our anti-discrimination policy.

Many well-intentioned people have suggested a range of different ideas for tackling these problems. In some cases, we’ve determined that some of the ideas could create unintended negative consequences — like eroding trust for our hosts and users. We continue to encourage everyone who shares our commitment to working to eliminate unconscious bias and fighting discrimination to tell us what they think.

We don’t have all the answers and we will continue to reach out to experts and members of our community to get their ideas and advice. We built the Airbnb community by listening and responding to that kind of honest feedback from our community and we’ve heard countless stories of hosts and guests from different communities and cultures who have become lifelong friends and never would have met without Airbnb. Those kinds of positive people-to-people interactions are what Airbnb is all about and we will continue to work as hard as we can to break down barriers and bring people together.