Opinion | Airbnb Has a Hate Group Problem, Too

archived recording

(SINGING) When you walk in the room, do you have sway?

kara swisher

I’m Kara Swisher, and you’re listening to “Sway.” The last 12 months have been a roller coaster for Airbnb. First, the pandemic decimated the travel industry and cut the home rental company’s revenues by 80 percent. By May, Airbnb had to lay off a quarter of its staff. But by December, after much rejiggering of its business, the company managed to come out on top. Its IPO that month put Airbnb’s worth at over $100 billion. That’s more than the value of Expedia and Marriott International combined. And then January 6th happened. Airbnb has certainly not been in the midst of the firestorm surrounding the attack on the Capitol the way Facebook or Twitter or YouTube have been, but a number of people who are alleged to have participated in the insurrection used Airbnb to book stays in D.C. This quickly turned into a dilemma for the company, which has a long history of struggling with trust and safety issues. So I wanted to talk to Airbnb co-founder and C.E.O., Brian Chesky, about how his company is navigating the aftermath.

Welcome to “Sway,” Brian.

brian chesky

Thank you, Kara.

kara swisher

So we have talked many times, Brian and I. We just were recounting. I actually met Brian when he was just starting his company with his other founders at a coffee place in San Francisco about 12 years ago. You’ve done pretty well since then, I think.

brian chesky

Yeah, I was just starting out, and I think you were on those flip cameras interviewing me before iPhones had good resolution.

kara swisher

Indeed, I did. So a lot has happened since we last spoke, too. And I wanted to start this conversation by talking about the recent decisions Airbnb has made to cancel reservations in D.C. specifically. After the attack on the Capitol, you canceled all D.C. reservations for inauguration week. Walk me through how you made those decisions, starting with January 6th.

brian chesky

Yeah, well, if I can just give background on where this all came from, in 2016, we updated our community standards policy to not allow members of hate groups to use Airbnb. And so we had a major problem of discrimination on our platform. Hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack was trending.

kara swisher

This is people who would not rent to people of color, correct?

brian chesky

Yep, so people of color were trying to book Airbnbs and were experiencing discrimination. So in the wake of that, we created a community commitment policy where every single user on Airbnb had to attest that they will not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, orientation, a variety of other circumstances. More than one million people decided not to comply with that, so we removed more than a million members from this. And thousands and thousands of angry people also said, “how dare you,” et cetera, et cetera. So —

kara swisher

How dare you what? What was the how dare you?

brian chesky

A lot of the accusations were, how dare you kind of side with the left? People thought these were political decisions, and I said no. It’s just a very low bar to not allow neo-Nazis on our platform. That is not a political decision. So in 2017, the summer, we started hearing that on forums, neo-Nazi forums, neo-Nazis were talking about booking Airbnbs in Charlottesville, Virginia for the Unite the Right rally. So we went to law enforcement, and we banned anyone that we could find that was involved in this that was a neo-Nazi. And ever since then, we’ve been banning people. So the first point I just want to make is, we didn’t just make a new policy or new decision on January 6 in the wake of the Capitol insurrection. We’ve been doing this, actually, for five years.

kara swisher

So how do you determine who’s in a hate group? Just because I’m going to the rally is enough to warrant that?

brian chesky

Oh, no, no. They have to be an active member of a hate group. And so we’re not the ones to decide. We work with the Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. I’m not sure there’s one universal hate group list, but they each have a list. And we cross-reference those lists. And historically, what we’ve done is, if we get any information from a community member or anyone else that somebody may be a member of a hate group, we will investigate. We have an investigation team called the User Knowledge Operations Team. It’s kind of a mouthful, but it’s a team who’s —

kara swisher

That’s scary. User Knowledge Operations Team?

brian chesky

Yeah, it’s comprised of former law enforcement officials, people in cybersecurity, people from the U.S. government and around the world. Basically, what happens is when people post information publicly that they’re intending to join a hate group rally or something — they have an intention that we think is nefarious — we will investigate. So we’re not sleuthing people’s personal backgrounds. People can post whatever they want in social media within reason. We don’t care, but that’s our bar.

kara swisher

How do you investigate them if you’re not sleuthing them? Does the government or ADL give you specific names of people, or —

brian chesky

Yes, they give us names of members of hate groups. There’s also hate group forums. And we don’t monitor most forums, but there are a few that are places where neo-Nazis congregate online that we do monitor those forums.

kara swisher

So, for the cancellations that were made ahead of January 6, did you know that these people are traveling from the rally specifically to —

brian chesky

We had no idea what was — like most people I presume — what was going to happen on January 6. We had absolutely no idea. But what we did know is that we had members of the Proud Boys organization, which is deemed a hate group by numerous groups — I think pretty much everyone deems them a hate group — were using Airbnb’s. It was brought to our attention by community members, hosts, who said this account seems suspicious. You can kind of tell with someone’s profile photo or the way they communicate. So, we looked into it. As we started looking into it, we started noticing a number of Proud Boys were trying to use Airbnb. We were able to stop, we believe, quite a few Proud Boys and other members hate groups from using Airbnb on January 6. But there’s no question that some of the people involved in the Capitol Insurrection were staying at an Airbnb. We don’t know how many.

kara swisher

How many did you remove before?

brian chesky

Pre-January 6, for that day?

kara swisher

Mm-hmm.

brian chesky

I don’t know off the top of my head. It was more than just a few. It was enough that the team brought this to me as a major issue. And of course, we called the mayor of D.C., Mayor Bowser, the governors of Virginia and Maryland. We retained the former police chief of D.C. as an advisor. And we created this whole protocol to try to elevate and go from reactive to proactive. So we asked the User Knowledge Operations Team to start proactively investing where neo-Nazis are congregating and other members of hate groups and to actually be more proactive. As part of that, we had a debate about what do we do about the inauguration. And we decided it was frankly going to be an easy decision to ban all reservations in D.C. We just thought the city was on lockdown. I had members of Congress and senators asking what we were doing, and could we stop reservations. And it became a pretty easy decision that we did not want to be involved in anything that was going to destabilize our democracy.

kara swisher

And you just said shut down because why should we even be part of a possible attack, second attack?

brian chesky

Yeah, because the burden for us to confirm exactly who wasn’t a member of a hate group when we heard floods of thousands of people, and as many people might not been officially a member of a hate group. In other words, you can’t ban somebody from a hate group until you have evidence they’re in a hate group. And that means you have to find evidence of them posting on a hate group forum. They might not have been. And so we felt like there could be thousands of people coming to D.C., and we don’t want to be involved in this. So we should not be a part of that.

kara swisher

Is there anything else that you’re doing in the aftermath of the Capitol attack to prevent bad actors from using you? What is now your new policy?

brian chesky

Absolutely. Post-January 6, we’ve now worked with the F.B.I., the D.C.P.D., U.S. attorneys. And one of the things we did is we got a list of people that have warrants out for them or have been arrested because of the insurrection. It turns out 130 of them were members on Airbnb. So we’ve now banned all of them, and we are now taking this framework and we’re going to bring it to 220 countries. And that is a policy we’re doing going forward. We’re not going to be able to stop everyone, because you can imagine, 220 countries — just the context to track people down. So we’ve started in the United States. We’re now going to Europe. And any major congregation, so political congregations, I mean, 4th of July would be something we would just generally be monitoring because we think there’s an opportunity for a lot of people to gather. So groups is probably the primary, but we are absolutely looking at major congregations and events.

kara swisher

All right, so these people have been arrested. They haven’t been convicted yet. So how are you tracking these cases as more information comes in? What if they make a mistake, or —

brian chesky

Oh, if they make a mistake, we want to make sure people understand there is due process. And we want people to know, we’re intending to do the right thing. So if there’s a warrant out, we’re going to ban them from the platform. If they’re exonerated and proven not to be a member of a hate group, of course, they will be reinstated. They have an appeals process. I take appeals very seriously because I also don’t want this to be like this Orwellian — I think there’s a dark side to taking more responsibility if we’re not careful. You could just start to feel very scared because the bigger tech companies become, the more, if you’re banned, it’s like you lose a major right in society. Imagine being banned from a major platform. So we really do have an appeals process. We look at it very carefully, and if people think we’ve done the wrong thing, we’ll take a look at it again.

kara swisher

Have you gotten any appeals from January 6 arrests yet?

brian chesky

I’m not aware of that.

kara swisher

But the arrest at the Capitol is enough for you to ban them, correct?

brian chesky

Yes, we believe that’s enough.

kara swisher

So is it owners or renters or both? Or is it —

brian chesky

Both.

kara swisher

Both.

brian chesky

Both. Mostly guests, just because for every host, there’s 10 guests or even more.

kara swisher

Right, and is there a specific team assigned to a hate groups, so individual teams?

brian chesky

Yep, they’re all different teams. So that kind of long name I told you is an investigation team that specifically focuses on a lot of dangerous organizations. We call them danger organizations or hate groups. They are part of a broader multi-hundred person trust and safety team comprised of cybersecurity experts and former law enforcement officials that also look into party houses, human trafficking, attempted terrorism, people harboring terrorists. There’s a variety of things you could use a home for.

kara swisher

Yeah, so does that mean an expansion of this?

brian chesky

Yes, and our general goal is, I mean, I would like us to be a role model. That doesn’t mean we’re going to do everything right, but I’d like us — I’m kind of tired of hearing tech companies getting dragged in the future and people thinking they’re not responsible. They’re hands off. They’re not acting like good actors. And we don’t want to be part of that narrative.

kara swisher

Are you going to try to remove people ahead of time or just after arrests?

brian chesky

It’s pretty difficult to prevent somebody from signing up. I think eventually we could probably do that. Right now, we kind of have to stop you after you sign up because it’s hard in the sign-up flow to just real-time detect that so many innocent people could be stopped. So we don’t stop them from signing up. We let them sign up. And then once they sign up, then we do an investigation if we have information. But we don’t wait for people to be arrested. If there’s any evidence you’re a member of a hate group, then we remove your account and you’re banned.

kara swisher

OK, so when Facebook or Twitter bans users, there’s been a huge backlash who say it’s censorship or political bias when they even put a label on it. For the most part, you’ve managed to fly under the radar of these claims. So this is going to give people a lot of attention towards you, this “we don’t want your business, you neo-Nazis.”

brian chesky

Well, first of all, I’m prepared to get shit from neo-Nazis. And I have been since Charlottesville. I mean, they don’t like us. Number one. Number two, I do think we’re a little different than Facebook and Twitter in the sense that I think with Facebook and Twitter, you know, there’s a lot of topic around free speech and censorship. With Airbnb, I think it’s about personal safety is kind of the top issue for most users. And so I think there’s just a different expectation of the public that we will take more responsibility because when Airbnb goes wrong, you can be physically harmed in a more direct way.

kara swisher

Do you see Silicon Valley following suit with this kind of behavior?

brian chesky

A hundred percent. But there’s no question, Kara, that one of two things is going to happen. Either tech companies are going to say, enough is enough. We’re stepping up, and we’re going to take more responsiblility for what happens on our platform, or they won’t. And if they won’t, then there will be probably government intervention, and I think that ultimately, society is going to win.

kara swisher

So when you say this to your compatriots there, because you’re friends with Zuckerberg, you’re friends, what do they say when you say this?

brian chesky

I won’t talk about anyone specific, but I will say that most people generally agree, actually. And maybe people will be surprised to hear that. Two or three years ago, I think we were in the minority on this. I think there is a reckoning that has occurred, and I think people are coming around to the idea that the path we’ve been on is unsustainable. And so, having talked to most tech leaders, I think most of them are coming around, but I’d say some at different speeds than others. And I do think some are way ahead of the curve, and some are kind of, in my mind, maybe dragging their feet, And it’s not to anyone’s benefit.

kara swisher

All right, so when we spoke this past May, we were just a few months into the pandemic. And you had just laid off 25 precent of your workforce, 1,900 employees. Your valuation was $18 billion. It was almost half of what it had been valued at the start of the pandemic. You had to borrow a billion dollar loan on top of a billion dollar bond deal. You weren’t sure when you would go public that year, but things were not looking good.

brian chesky

Yeah, it seemed as soon as the summer, it was inconceivable to almost everyone that we would be public that year. It was so inconceivable that we put the I.P.O. on hold. We put the S-1 on hold. And our bankers went on to other I.P.O.s.

kara swisher

Talk about that interim period. You had a lot of great ideas, and you put them all in a drawer. And then you didn’t go public. And you had to sort of clean up your business. Now you saw a little bit of a turnaround during the pandemic as people were renting more houses and just shifting their behaviors, correct?

brian chesky

The whole thing was shocking to me. I mean, the first thing was I never thought our business would drop 80 precent in eight weeks. And there was a lot of fallout, fallout including laying off 25 precent of employees, plus another 10 percent of the employee base that were contractors and fixed term employees. And so at that point, we were like, OK, this is a long road, and we’re probably not going to be public this year, because it seems like our revenue is going to be half of what we were forecasting. Then something remarkable happened. After having been locked in their homes quarantining for months, many people, especially the United States, said, I have to get out of the house. People got in their cars, and they were traveling 200 to 300 miles.

kara swisher

So they were renting nearby.

brian chesky

Yup, and so that meant a huge rebound in Q3.

kara swisher

So you had felt confident you could go public when?

brian chesky

Probably by August. I mean, we filed it in August. So I spent the month of July into August working on the S-1 —

kara swisher

It’s essentially a document you file with the Securities Exchange Commission explaining your business. It’s the map of your business.

brian chesky

Yeah, in our case, it was a 400-page document. And every single thing has to be kind of verifiably true by the S.E.C. So the S-1 had to be totally rewritten almost entirely, because the S-1 was describing a business that, in a sense, no longer existed. And we had a new business. It was very much focused on our roots, individuals, hosts, and it wasn’t about transportation, hotels, and a one-stop-shop for travel.

kara swisher

So in December, you debuted in the stock market, and you surpassed $100 billion valuation on the first day of trading. Your initial public offering price was $68, and you closed at $144.71. And what was your reaction to those numbers?

brian chesky

Well, I think my reaction was caught on camera in an interview. I was completely speechless. Not only was I not anticipating the stock price to more than double on the day of trading, but a company that was $18 billion not long earlier to then close at $100 billion, my whole hard drive melted in my head. How could we go from 18 to 100 in a year?

kara swisher

Yeah, how could you? So what do you think about that valuation? There’s a lot of talk about overvaluation or a bubble with a lot of companies. So why do you think you’re getting that number?

brian chesky

We had a fast rising valuation to $31 billion. But then we were stagnant for four or five years. So I had felt like our valuation was kind of stuck it $30, $31 billion for quite a few years. And so I felt a little bit like this is a bit of a lagging indicator that we’ve made more progress than we’re getting credit for. But that’s OK.

kara swisher

OK, but even you were left speechless by the numbers, and it’s not because you think they were overvalued. It’s just you didn’t think it would return that fast?

brian chesky

Exactly.

kara swisher

This shift between 18 and whatever it is now.

brian chesky

Yeah, it was just a very dramatic thing.

kara swisher

So when your first earnings report since going public came out recently, it showed 22 percent year over year drop in revenue, which was actually better than what you and others had predicted, and $3.89 billion in net loss. It seems to me like your company was predicted to lose money, but then was also valued very highly. So explain to people why the valuations are high when companies have losses.

brian chesky

The first thing is, no investor invests in a company if they don’t think they’ll eventually be profitable. But technology companies —

kara swisher

Well, there’s some speculators. WallStreetBets. GameStop is not worth whatever it was worth.

brian chesky

Certainly. I guess I’m speaking for super, obviously, sophisticated investors. The idea is that you can invest ahead of growth to get to massive scale. And when you get to massive scale, of course, then you can get higher margins. And what I think you show is that you have a profitable core. You use that profitable core to invest in new ventures. And that was true of Airbnb as well. I mean, we were taking our profits, and we were investing in nine other divisions and probably were overextended. But when we pulled everything back, I think we were able to show investors that the inherent business was profitable.

kara swisher

Are you planning to re-hire more people? Or where are you going to add costs and grow again?

brian chesky

We’re never going to add costs like we did before at our same scale. So we’re not going to add the same amount of marketing or same amount of people for that size business. We are going to rehire people that were laid off. We have rehired dozens so far. The majority of people laid off were hired elsewhere, but we are intending over the coming years to hire back as many people as possible that want to come back. At this point, we’re going to be a much leaner and more focused company. And that was the problem we had. We were trying to spin too many plates. It didn’t work. And so we’re never going to lose that focus.

kara swisher

So let’s talk about the specific things. Content?

brian chesky

Yeah, so we had content. We had a magazine. We shut it down. We don’t have an intention to restart the magazine. We don’t have any near-term plans for content. Never say never, but no near-term plans. We shut down, don’t have near-term plans for airlines. I think that —

kara swisher

You did, though.

brian chesky

We did. We had a flights product. We actually built it. We were testing it, and then we closed the whole thing down. I think the whole transportation industry is going to go through a transformation. So I kind of think it’s best to let that play out. And it’s more of a commodity business. There’s not as much we can do in that business. We pulled back our investment on hotels. We still have Hotel Tonight. I’m very proud of it. But we’re just not investing as much in the grand scheme of things. Business travel, we had a big business travel operation. I don’t think business travel is coming back to pre-Covid levels because a world of Zoom. I can keep listing it, but those are just a few examples.

kara swisher

So these trends you see, as the vaccines roll out, is increase in consumer travel, is what you’re talking about, right?

brian chesky

Yes, we don’t think business travel is going to come back for a while. I don’t think it ever fully comes back the way it was because I think a lot of people are going to say, I don’t need to get on a plane to go to that meeting. Because business travel is not coming back as much, we think that’s going to create more leisure travel. Because the more you’re working from home, the more you kind of want to get out of the house. And so we think there’s going to be a mixed shift from business travel to leisure travel. We also think there’s going to be a mixed shift from mass travel, people kind of staying in big resorts, people going on to Times Square or double-decker bus tours to staying in smaller towns and communities, many communities that don’t even have hotels. [MUSIC PLAYING]

kara swisher

We’ll be back in a minute. If you like this interview and want to hear others, hit Subscribe to be able to catch up on “Sway” episodes you may have missed, like my conversation with Uber C.E.O., Dara Khosrowshahi, and you’ll get new ones delivered directly to you. More with Brian Chesky after the break.

So let’s get to hosts. At the start of the pandemic, one of the biggest challenges you faced was that hosts were upset by the way Airbnb allowed guests to cancel reservations, get refunds. Do you wish you had done it differently?

brian chesky

Yeah, absolutely. When the pandemic occurred and the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, we had guests wanting to cancel around $1 billion worth of reservations. And these were reservations that we would have had to override the host cancellation policies to get their money back. And this is a conundrum. Do you refund the guests their money, but then the hosts aren’t going to get paid? And this is a recession now, so they need the money. And we didn’t really want to side with guests or hosts, but we thought we don’t want people to feel like they have to travel and put themselves in a moral hazard because they can’t get their money back. So we decided to override hosts’ cancellation policies and refund them. That was likely the right decision. I think it was, but we just blindsided the host with it. And we didn’t consult them. We didn’t tell them. We didn’t treat them as partners. And there was a very big backlash. It was a huge learning lesson for me. And we did listening sessions with about 4,000 hosts. And we committed to doing better. And we made a lot of changes and —

kara swisher

All right, “committed to doing better” is corporate speak. What does that mean?

brian chesky

OK, we updated our cancellation policies. We improved a number of tools that they were upset about. We started investing a significant amount more in customer service because they told us they wanted us to be more accessible and available. And then the other thing we did is, we created an Airbnb host endowment, kind of modeled after a college endowment. And we took 9.2 million shares, what is today valued around nearly $2 billion. We created a host advisory board of 17 hosts. And we’ve asked them to advise us on what to do with the endowment. We also took $250 million off our balance sheet, which doesn’t maybe sound like a lot for a company like Airbnb today. But at the time, when we were having trouble raising money, it certainly felt like a lot of money. We gave that to hosts. So it didn’t make them a whole, but it made them, like, 25 percent whole on the cancelled reservations.

kara swisher

Yeah, because some of them online said they didn’t get any money. There are those that say really very little compared to what they lost. Did you distribute all the money in that fund?

brian chesky

Yep, we distributed all the money. It was $250 million plus. I think an incremental more than $10 million of a grant program as well.

kara swisher

Did you want it now, given how high your stock is, make them whole of what they lost, that $1 billion? Do you see yourselves doing that or not?

brian chesky

No, I mean, I think the endowment is kind of — we’ve consulted, and the vast majority of host, we’ve consulted with. And I’m not saying this is everyone. There’s many hosts who feel differently. But having consulted the host advisors board and other community leaders, I think most hosts feel good about where the relationship is now, how we’ve handled it. And just to be super clear, I’ve committed to putting in more than $100 million of my own money into this endowment. And that will be probably the first of numerous gifts I make.

kara swisher

So now one of the things is that hosts can list are their homes on other services like VRBO or asking potential guests to go to Craigslist to book there for a cheaper rate. Are you worried about that issue of people going off your platform or finding other ways? How do you combat that?

brian chesky

I’m not too worried about it because we don’t think it’s happening very frequently. And the way to combat that primarily is to make a service so good that they don’t have a reason to take it offline. For example, you take it on Craigslist, your home gets trashed, you might not be insured. You do an Airbnb, you have a million dollars coverage.

kara swisher

Yeah, there is a BookDirect hashtag, though, and stuff like that. So you think that the services you provide like insurance, like payment and stuff like that —

brian chesky

I don’t think many people are trying to do it, just statistically. There’s four million hosts. I think you’ll find a few examples. You’re not going to find thousands. And the people who want to book direct are typically larger enterprises that are trying to build their own brand. So these are large property managers. Not all the time, but usually.

kara swisher

Yeah, they want to do their own.

brian chesky

Yeah, they want to have their own brand, and they don’t want an intermediary.

kara swisher

Which you are.

brian chesky

We are, and I think regular people don’t think of us as intermediary. They can’t conceive of doing it without us because they’re not trying to run a business, like a big business, most of them.

kara swisher

One of the things that you had been involved in was a number of legal disputes with cities over short-term rental regulation, as well as tax collection for years. So what does it look like these days? Because cities have changed. Rents in San Francisco are down 20 percent. There’s all kinds of activity where there’s lots of room suddenly — or more room. I guess San Francisco will never be total room — but how has that changed?

brian chesky

It’s totally changed. I mean, I’d say the pandemic was a reset on our relationship with thousands of cities. So a lot of cities have major budget shortfalls. I mean a huge amount. And these cities are going through budget crisis. Many hotels are shutting down and not coming back. They’re losing all their conference business, all their business travel. And so now we’re trying to just work with cities that want tourism.

kara swisher

But you’re all seeing some new laws being proposed in San Diego, Vermont, Philadelphia. It’s not a total reset. How do you look at those?

brian chesky

Well, San Diego — actually, we think those are generally positive developments. Air San Diego existed in a kind of back and forth with hotel unions for a long time. There was discussion of banning Airbnb. There was a compromise with the city council. Eight out of the nine members voted in favor of amending the ordinance to make sure it was legalized. The hotel unions supported it. There was a compromise around some registration schemes, but we supported it.

kara swisher

So the lack of power of hotels now is good for Airbnb, the lessing power.

brian chesky

Well, I think maybe another way of saying it is, I think hotels are realizing they need more guests in their hotels. And they realize a lot of guests are on Airbnb, and so hotels are now reaching out to us as well. I think hotels are realizing that we’re a part of the future, and the best opportunity for most of them is to list on Airbnb.

kara swisher

All right, but speaking of one particular city, your relationship with New York City had been particularly strained. And you settled a lawsuit against the city’s collection of host data last year. Recently, Governor Cuomo, who may or may not be there by the time this airs, proposed that home sharing businesses like Airbnb should collect sales tax. What is your outlook on that? And also, where are you with New York now?

brian chesky

We think that’s a great thing. The city of New York had decided since 2013 to not allow us to collect remit taxes. I think the fear was to do that would be to legitimize the business. And some people didn’t want the business legitimized. What happened is in the pandemic, with budget shortfalls, I think the governor in New York and others in the state decided they could use the tax dollars. And so, we were like, of course we want to do that. If they want to collect our tax dollars, we would surely comply.

kara swisher

And your relationship with the city?

brian chesky

I can’t say it’s great because it’s complicated, but it’s much better. I mean, we’ve complied in every way that they’ve asked us to as far as I can tell, and we’re trying to pay taxes to a city that has a huge shortfall. I think the point is that New York had a perception that maybe they had an overtourism problem. There were too many people. They don’t need the people. Now I think the city of New York is saying, we’ve got an undertourism problem. There’s not enough visitors. It’s a major problem of the economy. We need to make this city a little bit more friendly to travelers. And maybe working with Airbnb would be part of that solution.

kara swisher

You don’t want to go back to those disastrous bus ads, where you said you’re welcome for the money? I mean, this was an ad where that you essentially said you’re welcome for the money, for the sales.

brian chesky

Yeah, it was this super passive aggressive billboard campaign that —

kara swisher

I think it was aggressive aggressive, Brian, but go ahead.

brian chesky

Aggressive, aggressive. There was extremely obnoxious billboards, and we tried to take them down. The moment I saw them on Twitter, I’m like, what the heck are these? And we tried to take them down. They were highly embarrassing.

kara swisher

So you don’t have that attitude like cities —

brian chesky

No.

kara swisher

— now you must dance to the tune of Airbnb.

brian chesky

That’s the kind of technology attitude that people hate.

kara swisher

OK, so lastly, I want to talk about where tech is right now. Now Airbnb usually isn’t very central to conversation, say, about Section 230, which protects companies from being held liable for online content. But you have cited 230 in your lawsuits. And can you explain how it applies to Airbnb?

brian chesky

Yeah, so Section 230 essentially provides some protection against being liable for the activity in your platform because you don’t — you’re not the creator of the content. So, in our case, we do think we are responsible to a point. To be super clear, when the damage occurs, we try to refund guests. We often pay out of pocket for issues. So we don’t think we’re not responsible. We just don’t think we’re 100 [percent] responsible in every single incident that you would never be able to have a business like Airbnb that was possible. They’re not our homes. So we think there are limits to our ability to self regulate. But we try to do absolutely as much as possible. And it’s very expensive. And so we think there have to just be some protections. Otherwise, I think internet platforms, as they know it, probably can’t operate.

kara swisher

What would you like to see, reform? You’re talking about reform of it. What would you support, besides leaving it in place?

brian chesky

I don’t know. I mean, this is getting fairly technical. This is probably beyond me as far as — I want to say, I don’t know if Section 230 is the thing that should be amended. You may have an opinion. I don’t have a strong opinion on that. I do think that technology companies do have to take more responsibility. I think technology companies should cooperate with additional regulation that will likely be passed. I think regulators should be careful about going so far that it has unintended consequences that they don’t like in the first place. We are in a recession. People still need to make money. They need to be able to do things. And there’s a lot of great things about the internet being a fairly free place. I think the internet started as a free place. I think then we all realize not everyone is a good actor. And I think what we don’t want is a pendulum, where it goes so far the other direction, it kind of stifles everything. So I think we just want a sensible middle ground.

kara swisher

OK, so as you know, Facebook C.E.O. Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s C.E.O. Sundar Pichai, and Twitter C.E.O. Jack Dorsey will be appearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee to answer questions about misinformation on their platforms related, actually, to January 6, too. Why have you not been called to Congress?

brian chesky

I can’t tell you why they have not asked me. But I can tell you that we’re in touch with Congress a lot, all the time. I mean, I think we tried to be proactive. I mean, we got Eric Holder involved before Uber did. I think we were the first tech company to get Eric Holder involved.

kara swisher

Ah, hiring Eric Holder. The Eric Holder move.

brian chesky

It became like a power move. We did it. And it wasn’t like a thing to do when we did it. We did it.

kara swisher

Right, OK. all right.

brian chesky

And so I do think our reputation not among all politicians, but in D.C. among the U.S Congress, is we’re more proactive than maybe some other companies.

kara swisher

Right, so how do you deal with misinformation on your platform? I guess it would be limited to comments, right? Is that where it would be?

brian chesky

Yeah, misinformation in our place would be misrepresentation of two things. Either misrepresentation of listing —

kara swisher

So that’s like that doesn’t look like that.

brian chesky

Yeah, it says there’s no hot tub. It doesn’t really fly in the face of democratic issues. Or reviews. The reviews is probably the biggest one, where both sides review each other. Sometimes they don’t like it. And we have to adjudicate these reviews, and that’s not easy. And so, if we remove every review when somebody makes a complaint, you won’t trust the review system, but we have to look into it. So those are the kind of things. And I think that my guess is, maybe people have felt like that’s not elevated to the same level of seriousness as some of the matters on social media platforms. I think Airbnb, they’re more focused right now on safety, whether it’s Covid spreaders, violence, things like that.

kara swisher

And things like privacy, cameras, creepy, and things like that.

brian chesky

Yes, yeah, I call that safety.

kara swisher

Would you be surprised to know that I have a very high rating on Airbnb, among reviews? You’d think I wouldn’t, but I —

brian chesky

I won’t —

kara swisher

I leave the places neater than when I get there, just saying.

brian chesky

Really?

kara swisher

Neater, yes.

brian chesky

That doesn’t surprise me, although it would shock me to know that you leave positive reviews every time. Because you’re —

kara swisher

I do, kind of.

brian chesky

Really?

kara swisher

I’ve had a pretty good experience on all these —

brian chesky

You’re pretty critical.

kara swisher

I am, that is true. Thank you, Brian.

brian chesky

You have discerning taste.

kara swisher

I have discerning —

brian chesky

You’re critical, and I mean that as a compliment.

kara swisher

Oh, you were going down like you’re a jackass, Kara.

brian chesky

No, I’m not.

kara swisher

And then you said discerning.

brian chesky

But you are — you’re very discerning. You’re one of the more discerning people I know.

kara swisher

Discerning.

brian chesky

Every time you tell me you use Airbnb, 80 percent of me is super excited. And 20 percent of me says, please, host, you better do a good job.

kara swisher

[LAUGHS] OK, Brian Chesky, thank you so much.

brian chesky

Thank you, Kara. [MUSIC PLAYING]

kara swisher

“Sway” is a production of New York Times Opinion. It’s produced by Nayeema Raza, Heba Elorbany, Matt Kwong, Daphne Chen, and Vishakha Darbha, edited by Nayeema Raza and Paula Szuchman, with original music by Isaac Jones, mixing by Erick Gomez, and fact checking by Kate Sinclair and Ben Phalen. Special thanks to Shannon Busta, Liriel Higa, and Jamie Collazo. If you’re in a podcast app already, you know how to subscribe to a podcast. So subscribe to this one. If you’re listening on The Times website and want to get each new episode of “Sway” delivered to you — and please leave us a five star review or else — download any podcast app and search for “Sway” and hit Subscribe. We release every Monday and Thursday. Oh, and one more thing. I just wanted to mention the two New York Times Op-Docs are nominated for Academy Awards this year. One is the film, “Time,” and the other is “A Concerto is a Conversation.” You can go to nytimes.com/opdocsawards to watch them and find out more. Thanks for listening.