A low weasel density makes AirBnB discrimination post credible

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Photo: Kimberly White/Getty Images for Vanity Fair

AirBnB CEO Brian Chesky’s latest post responds to accusations from last December that its hosts discriminate based on race. Chesky’s post reads as sincere because of the low density of weasel words, even though he starts off with a huge faux pas.

AirBnB’s first response

AirBnB first responded to this issue on its blog in May. David King, Director of Diversity, addressed it in a post titled “A Fair Community for Everyone” with direct, and unequivocal statements (these are excerpts). He should have linked to news items about the discrimination, but his position is clear.

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. . . . We realize these goals will be difficult to reach and we have a lot to learn, as we are confronting an age-old problem.

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.

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.

Brian Chesky chimes in

Now the CEO has added his own perspective with “An Update on the AirBnB Discrimination Review.” His attempt to be personal and engaging starts badly, with an awkward attempt to win over both Black Lives Matter-backers and those who support the police.

The recent shootings in Minnesota, Texas and Louisiana are shocking and tragic. I can’t begin to imagine the pain and anger felt by the families of the victims. I know it has rippled across the country, and it has deeply affected us here at Airbnb. We believe in trying to make this world feel a little more welcoming and inclusive. We believe that everyone should be treated equally, and with respect. We believe that Black Lives Matter, and we support those who are making their voices heard. We also support the brave police officers who often protect peaceful protesters, and who risk their lives every day for all of us.

AirBnB is pretty far removed from shootings of black people and police There is no reason for Chesky to bring that up or take a position on it, and every reason to avoid the subject. Pro-tip: when addressing a corporate discrimination issue, don’t bring murder into the conversation.

Chesky follows this up with promises. These are helpful, but just first steps:

In early June we announced that we would review every aspect of the Airbnb platform to help ensure we are doing everything we can to fight bias and discrimination. We are halfway through our review and want you to know more about some of the steps we’ve already started taking.

First, we’ve brought in outside experts and advisors to help guide our efforts. Laura Murphy, the former head of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington D.C. Legislative Office, is leading the review process. Under her leadership, we’ve convened meetings with civil rights leaders from across the country and held working sessions with employees at Airbnb to get their input.

We are honored that former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has agreed to join our team to help craft a world-class anti-discrimination policy. Holder will be working with John Relman, a leading civil rights attorney and national expert on fair housing and public accommodation issues. While we have a policy that prohibits discrimination, we want this policy to be stronger. And we will require everyone who uses our platform to read and certify that they will follow this policy.

Then, descriptions of what they’re already doing:

Our team and outside experts have also highlighted the importance of fighting both explicit racism and the implicit biases that can lead to discrimination. Last year, we made unconscious bias training available to hosts who attended the Airbnb Open. We recently asked Dr. Robert W. Livingston of Harvard University to help us improve these trainings and ensure they are available to more members of our community.

And apologies for not doing it sooner:

This process isn’t close to being over, but we want to be as transparent as possible along the way because I know we’ve failed on that front previously. Over the last month, I have been reflecting on why we have been slow to address these problems. Joe, Nate, and I started Airbnb with the best of intentions, but we weren’t fully conscious of this issue when we designed the platform. After speaking to many of you, I have learned that there have at times been a lack of urgency to work on this, and we need to rectify that immediately.

I promise you that we have learned from the past and won’t repeat our prior mistakes and delays. I sincerely believe that this is the greatest challenge we face as a company. It cuts to the core of who we are and the values that we stand for. We will not simply “address the issue” by doing the least required for liability and PR purposes. I want us to be smart and innovative and to create new tools to prevent discrimination and bias that can be shared across the industry.

Obviously, the proof is in their next steps. But this is encouraging.

Low weasel density makes this piece believable

While Chesky got off to a poor start with Black Lives Matter, his genuine concern is visible. Notice how he addresses this contentious challenge head-on, without using euphemisms, passive voice, and jargon to evade the issue. In contrast to Marissa Mayer’s superlative-laden email about selling Yahoo, the number of weasel words is low. Here’s the complete list of weasel words in this 676-word post:

deeply, a little more, world-class, leading, stronger, nationally recognized, comprehensive, at times, sincerely, greatest

That’s 15 words out of 676 total, for a weasel density of 2%. And that’s no coincidence. Ration your superlatives and qualifiers, and you’ll sound more sincere.

Disclosure: I’m an AirBnB customer — I’m staying in one right now. Both my hosts and I are white. I don’t believe this biases me, but judge for yourself.

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