Airbnb race controversy hits Dem convention

The debate over discrimination on Airbnb’s home-sharing platform is coming to the Democratic National Convention this week.

A coalition critical of the service announced on Monday it would use the convention to publicize the discrimination allegations on television and in person to delegates attending the event in Philadelphia. And Airbnb is planning its own event to send the message that it takes the alleged bias seriously.

{mosads}The coalition, Share Better, will air an advertisement on broadcast and cable television in Philadelphia that features a black woman, Quirtina Crittenden, talking about discrimination she has faced while trying to secure lodging through Airbnb.

Crittenden says in the ad that she has been turned down by Airbnb hosts only to see later that the listing was still available for the dates she has requested. Her story was reported by NPR in April as criticism of the company mounted.

“I hope you’ll stand with me and others and tell Airbnb they should be doing more to stop racial discrimination,” she says in the spot. “Because we deserve better.”

The ad will air on NBC and cable networks MSNBC, CNBC and CNN. Share Better has also bought time on the three cable channels in New York.

That will be coupled with individuals handing out printed materials making the coalition’s case around the arena that is hosting the convention and local hotels. There will also be a truck displaying the video ad in the city. The coalition also says it has bought full-page ads in USA Today to press its case.

Share Better is a New York-based coalition of housing advocates and lawmakers who want stricter rules for home-sharing; it has been linked to the hotel industry, a direct competitor of Airbnb, and a powerful union that represents hotel employees.

Airbnb painted the campaign as a hotel industry-funded distraction from the work of fighting discrimination.

“We recognize that this is the greatest challenge we face as a company and while the big hotel industry funds attack ads, we’re working on meaningful and lasting solutions to all forms of discrimination wherever they appear,” said a spokesperson in a statement.

Airbnb, meanwhile, is hosting an event to honor civil rights activists who fought to integrate aspects of a Democratic National Convention 52 years ago.

The event on Tuesday will focus on the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, a group of black activists who challenged Mississippi’s all-white delegation to the convention in 1964. The event is co-sponsored by BET Networks.

It features actor Bryan Cranston, who portrayed President Lyndon Johnson in an HBO movie that recounted his push for civil rights legislation and relationship with Martin Luther King Jr., who fought on behalf of the black Mississippi delegates.

Airbnb has been at the center of a political storm in recent months as pressure has grown on its leadership to address racial discrimination on its platform.

Black Airbnb users have organized around the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack to share their stories of racism while trying to book a room, home or apartment using the popular service.

The company has pledged to improve their experience and use its technical expertise to build tools to fight discrimination. It has also retained former Attorney General Eric Holder to help steer its anti-discrimination policy.

“I promise you that we have learned from the past and won’t repeat our prior mistakes and delays,” wrote CEO Brian Chesky in a blog post last week. “I sincerely believe that this is the greatest challenge we face as a company.”

This story was updated at 5:40 p.m.

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