Skip to Content

Airbnb undermined team that removed extremist users, whistleblower claims

By Clare Duffy, CNN

New York (CNN) — Airbnb has undermined users’ safety by scaling back its work to remove extremists from its platform, a former contractor alleged in a new whistleblower complaint.

Jess Hernandez worked full-time as an investigations analyst for Airbnb’s dangerous organizations team from May 2022 to November 2023, researching extremist networks as part of the company’s work to keep dangerous individuals off the platform. But she says she was terminated in November 2023, shortly after her team was directed by management to reinstate users who had been removed for their participation in the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol.

“Airbnb spent much of 2023 scaling back and undermining the work of its team tasked with removing individuals affiliated with dangerous and extremist organizations from the platform,” Whistleblower Aid, the organization representing Hernandez, said in a statement. It added that by making the changes, “Airbnb privately abandoned its public commitment to its hosts’ and guests’ safety and security under this policy.”

Hernandez filed the whistleblower disclosure in May to the US Securities and Exchange Commission and Federal Trade Commission. The complaint was first reported Wednesday by NBC. CNN has not viewed the complaint and could not independently verify the details included in the NBC report.

Airbnb disputed Hernandez’s claims, saying that it continues to enforce against members of dangerous or extremist organizations.

“Contrary to these baseless and inaccurate allegations, we have actually expanded the remit of our team to detect and remove users who pose safety risk and this year we’ve hired additional team members to support the enforcement of this policy,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “As an online platform that facilitates millions of real-world interactions globally, we have robust policies, processes, and teams across the company focusing on promoting community safety, including preventing unsafe users from using the platform.”

Airbnb touts more than 5 million hosts who list space on the room- and home-rental platform. In the first three months of 2024 alone, Airbnb facilitated the booking of more than 132 million nights and “experiences,” non-overnight offerings such as walking tours.

The whistleblower complaint comes as Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky has for years tried to quell safety concerns over a business that is, at its heart, strangers staying in the homes of other strangers. Those efforts have included crackdowns on parties, resources for solo female travelers and a ban on indoor security cameras.

Airbnb in 2016 asked members to sign a commitment that they would “accept people regardless of their race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or age” in order to host or make a booking on the platform. And in the following years, it pointed to that pledge when removing users associated with extremist organizations.

In 2017, the company removed some accounts and canceled bookings associated with the Unite the Right White nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

And in 2021, months after the January 6 attack, Airbnb said it had removed “numerous individuals” who had been identified as having “participated in the violent criminal activity at the US Capitol.” It added that it had canceled reservations in the Washington DC metro area during inauguration week in response to calls from local and federal officials.

But in 2023, Airbnb came under fire by conservative media for removing the parents of far-right activist Lauren Southern from the platform; the company quickly reversed the removal, calling it a “mistake.” Southern, a far-right Canadian YouTube personality, had criticized her parents’ removal from the platform on social media and later in an appearance on Fox News.

Around the same time, Hernandez claims that Airbnb made the dangerous organizations team’s work slower and more complicated, requiring proposed removals to be reviewed by legal, communications and community policy departments leaders, according to NBC, which said it received Hernandez’s 161-page complaint from an anonymous source on Capitol Hill.

“Our hands were tied — we weren’t removing people,” Hernandez told NBC.

Prior to her work at Airbnb, Hernandez worked as a researcher for the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium, an organization that tracks terrorist and hate groups, according to Whistleblower Aid.

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - Business/Consumer

Jump to comments ↓

CNN Newsource


KTVZ NewsChannel 21 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content