Airbnb has been quietly using social media to root out and ban extremists

Kris Holt
·Contributing Writer
·2 min read

Airbnb has canceled all bookings in Washington DC this week in an attempt to prevent people from traveling there for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration in the wake of the January 6th US Capitol riot. The company is also said it is attempting to ban anyone who took part in the insurrection, as well as those with links to known hate groups. It seems Airbnb has actually been working for years to root out people in the latter group, and it has used social media monitoring as part of those efforts.

The company has used dummy accounts on Facebook, Twitter and forums to identify users with ties to white nationalism and other possibly dangerous groups, according to The Information. Six or so employees in the trust and safety unit are said to have been tasked with tracking down users connected to those groups and kicking them off Airbnb's platform.

The trust and safety employees reportedly don't interact with others using the dummy accounts. They only search public posts. Many Airbnb users link their accounts to Facebook, which could make it easier to kick out those with connections to hate groups.

Airbnb has adopted such practices since the lead up to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 and it has taken a more aggressive approach since January 6th. The company, which prohibits "violent racist groups" from using its services, is said to have banned more than 100 accounts of people with links to hate groups.

In 2019, Airbnb banned more than 60 users after cross-referencing leaked email addresses from a neo-Nazi forum. The company also banned a Proud Boy forum member who booked an Airbnb as part of plans to attend a Washington DC rally in November.

The likes of Twitter, Facebook and other platforms have been kicking people connected to hate groups and those who post QAnon-related content off of their services in recent months. As such, Airbnb may find it more difficult to use social media to monitor those people.

"When signals suggest a hate group member may be using Airbnb, we investigate and take appropriate action," Airbnb spokesperson Ben Breit told Engadget. "This information can come to us in many ways— including flags from members of our community, social media users or news articles."

Update 1/20 11:55am ET: Added a statement from Airbnb.