Airbnb Whistleblower Alleges that Company Undermined Team that Removed Extremist Users

Airbnb Whistleblower

A former employee of Airbnb is alleging that the company undermined the team tasked with removing extremist users from the platform.

Jess Hernandez, previously an extremism researcher, was a contractor at Airbnb from May 2022 until November 2023. Hernandez worked full-time as an investigations analyst for Airbnb’s dangerous organization team and investigated extremist networks to keep dangerous individuals off the platform. In November 2023, she was terminated after her investigation team was instructed to reinstate individuals who had previously been banned due to their involvement in the January 6, 2021, Insurrection.

Her attorneys issued a statement alleging that “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 U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Federal Trade Commission.

The complaint allegedly claims Airbnb weakened its policies against hate groups and dissolved its team tasked with removing extremists from the platform. Airbnb has denied the allegations, saying that it remains committed to removing violent extremist groups, organized crime networks, and hate groups. Airbnb also reports that it has hired additional people dedicated to removing these users instead.

 In 2017, Airbnb removed users connected to the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, after being alerted that members of a neo-Nazi site were planning to hold parties and stay at several Airbnb listings in town. This investigation occurred after Airbnb asked its members to agree to “accept people regardless of their race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or age.” The company investigation found that the users were affiliated with the rally, resulting in their removal from the site.

In 2021, Airbnb was made aware of individuals who had confirmed participating in the January 6, 2021 Insurrection and had removed their accounts. As a result of these efforts, Airbnb caught the attention of conservative media outlets after they removed the parents of Lauren Southern, a far-right activist. But in 2023, Airbnb came under fire by conservative media for removing the parents of far-right activist Lauren Southern from the platform.

During this controversy, Hernandez alleged that Airbnb had her team work slower and required proposed removals to be reviewed by legal, communications, and community policy department heads. In her statement to NBC, Hernandez explained Airbnb “completely halted our work…our hands were tied — we weren’t removing people.” Hernandez says she was informed by one supervisor that she was terminated due to underperformance. While another supervisor allegedly told her that her termination was unrelated to her performance. After her termination, she learned her job was eliminated alongside the five-person investigation team. One supervisor announced Airbnb would no longer remove hate groups from the platform. Hernandez’s attorney, Libby Lui, stated that Hernandez “directly experienced Airbnb misleading their customers and shareholders into believing they are keeping their platform safe from dangerous extremism while failing to do so.”

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