Airbnb smartly decided earlier this week to cancel all D.C. bookings during inauguration week out of fear of another violent insurrection on the horizon, but its competitor Vrbo is apparently not following suit.
As first reported by BuzzFeed News, short-term rental platform Vrbo said in a blog post Friday that it was “encouraging hosts to cancel bookings during this time” if they believe a guest intends to violate the company’s policies banning harassment and violence. But it stopped short of unilaterally cancelling reservations.
“If you mistreat people, there’s no space for you on Vrbo,” the company wrote, sticking to flowery platitudes about its commitment to safety and tolerance to distract from its lack of concrete preventative action.
Both announcements from Airbnb and Vrbo followed warnings from law enforcement agencies that armed extremists are expected to descend on the Capitol ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20. Authorities have been on high alert and gearing up to deal with potentially violent protests in the days leading up to the event. Capitol police faced widespread criticism for officers’ apparent lack of preparedness to deal with Jan. 6’s deadly attack on Capitol Hill, and the department’s chief of police has resigned amid the fallout.
In its blog post, Vrbo acknowledged that authorities were “reporting the potential for violence and armed protests” in the D.C. area and urged guests to be cautious.
“The safety of our guests and hosts is of the utmost importance to us. If you plan to travel during this time, please follow local governmental regulations and check the latest news for updates.”
Of course, all that really does is shove the responsibility onto property owners, leaving them to figure out if their guests might be dangerous extremists or planning to commit violence in D.C., as Buzzfeed News points out.
It’s a far cry from the top-down safeguards adopted by Airbnb. On Wednesday, the company announced it is blocking all new reservations in the D.C. metro area during inauguration week due to reports that “armed militias and known hate groups” are planning to disrupt Biden’s swearing-in. Airbnb promised that all guests with existing reservations would be refunded and rental property owners would be reimbursed on the company’s dime.
Vrbo did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.
I’m sure we all have our fingers crossed that this inauguration won’t be yet another once-in-a-lifetime event our battered psyches watch unfold in real-time. But as social media networks are (finally!) realising in horrifying clarity, simply denouncing hate isn’t enough to prevent violence of the calibre we witnessed last week. Online platforms need to take concrete, uncompromising action to prevent dangerous extremists from congealing on them in the first place, or else they risk abetting another body count.