This blog article is intended to be partly a story about the history of the host community groups, and partly an analysis of some problems that many such groups face at the present time.
Though discussion groups for vacation rental property owners existed before Airbnb came around, the “host community group” really took off as the rise of Airbnb brought many thousands more into hosting. The first such Airbnb host community groups existed on the Airbnb website itself. This thread http://globalhosting.freeforums.net/thread/2760/history-original-airbnb-community-groups
describes some of the history of the original host community groups.
Here are some highlights as described there:
Did you know ….
That when Airbnb started the host community groups in November 2013, hosts could create any group they wanted?
That there ended up being 440 host community groups, ranging from the largest ones, like Anecdotes, with over 64,000 members at the time of closing, to host groups that only had a handful of people?
That there were special interest groups, like groups for Vegan hosts, and Motorcyclist hosts? Or Writer and Artist Hosts, or Photographers? For those interested in bushwalking, hiking and trekking?
That there were regional groups for a huge number of world cities, in many languages —
That there was a Gay Friendly Hosts Community, and a “Bearnb” group?
A group for those offering long term stays?
A group for those interested in house swaps?
A group for modern art? For Yoga and Spirituality? For Nudists?
There was a group for the Airbnb Open, which continues onto the new Community Center.
From the start, Airbnb allowed any host to start a host group on virtually any subject. This led to a proliferation of groups. Some of the groups were larger and very active, some were small and had only 2 to 3 members. Some were well moderated, others were not. In fact, the phenomenon of poor or even non-existent moderation began early on, with some of the very first host community groups on Airbnb site!
Sometimes a host would start a group, and then drop out. This could result in a group with virtually no moderation, and from nearly the very beginning, there were problems with abuse of the groups, not only businesses but also spammers scammers and phishing enterprises of all kinds, trying to exploit the “captive audience” and lure in unsuspecting hosts to their phishing sites or aggressively market their goods. Those active in the early host groups, group leaders such as myself, realized that in order to keep the groups clean of spam and ads, we had to quite regularly monitor the posts. In groups such as Anecdotes — which got its boost because the groups were initially arranged alphabetically, so as an “A” letter group it got more members really fast— it became a standing joke that due to almost nonexistent moderation, the group ended up being chock full of ads and garbage posts. A great many hosts would join just to post an ad to their listing
or even just to say “hi” and then disappear.
The property listing ad posts never made much sense…if people want to stay someplace, they’re going to look for a place in the standard way…certainly they will not go to a host community group which has NO search function, and scroll down endlessly to look for ads, interspersed with normal posts, presented in a completely disorganized manner.
Feeling helpless in a virtually completely unmoderated group, some group members, out of frustration at seeing their group plastered with this crap, began to simply try to have fun with the inappropriate posts and ads, making jokes about them or those posting them. See more about that here: http://globalhosting.freeforums.net/thread/2729/anecdotes-bogged-newbie-queries-hellos
The joking got more frequent and eventually became a tradition of this particular group.
Though the property listing ads and other spam and ads were annoying, Airbnb itself was more concerned about another possibility that could occur in groups that were poorly moderated, or actually unmoderated. And this was the possibility that hosts would post extremely inappropriate content there, which could reflect badly if existing on Airbnb’s own website.
There was in fact one incident that occurred on the group called “Hosting 911”, which changed the future of the host groups forever. And this was when, in summer of 2015, a young host in Australia posted a thread on New Hosts Forum and Hosting 911 inquiring about “Boosting My ratings”. When she didn’t like the advice she got, she became suicidal, and began posting threats on the Hosting 911 group, implying she was going to kill herself.
This incident resulted in Airbnb having to get in touch with its Airbnb affiliates in Australia, and contacting emergency services, and sending paramedics to this hosts’ home, who found that she had actually taken steps to commit suicide. She was taken to a hospital and stabilized and her life was saved, but her Airbnb account was terminated thereafter.
Airbnb realized after this that it could unfortunately not afford the liability, or public relations disaster, of host-led groups on its own website, which could have this kind of thing occur on them.
So Airbnb began planning to end the old host-led host community groups, and create a new “Community Center” on its site, which would be moderated not by hosts but by a Subcontractor or Vendor business. Which is what you see today on the Airbnb site. As they made this transition they worked with myself and a few other of the original host leaders and regular participants on the old groups, soliciting our feedback for their design plans for the new Airbnb Community Center. This group of about 20 of us were giving them a lot of feedback early on as they set up the Community Center that you see today…the first versions of it did not look as good! Our feedback helped them improve the site.
The old host groups closed in May 2016, and hosts in the various groups (though there were 440 groups, only about a dozen were very active) had to decide where to go from there.
Most of the original group leaders were not interested in participating on the new Community Center for hosts, for two reasons primarily.
First was that whereas the original host groups had been open only to hosts, and were not visible to the general public, Airbnb intended most of the new Community Center to be viewable by the general public, with the exception of the “Host Circle” and the Regional host groups. This created the problem that anything any host posted could be linked not only to their profile and listing, but could be seen, and linked to those, potentially by anyone in the world, including that hosts’ guests or potential guests. Most of those who had participated in the original host groups saw the value of this relative privacy and were concerned that if they posted about a concern with a guest, the guest they were posting about could see their post.
Secondly, hosts had valued the groups that had formed under their leadership and they had built up these groups with a lot of time and effort, and they wanted host leaders and moderators, not some third party contractor to be moderating the groups.
So, when the Airbnb Community Center took off, it really saw a whole different group of hosts populate it– only some of the regulars from the old groups stayed on. The rest went to various offsite host groups.
Though there were some efforts to create non-social-media offsite groups (my forum at www.globalhostingforum.com being one of those, and www.airhostsforum.com being another), these were not as popular as the Facebook host groups. For some reason, everyone loved Facebook, in spite of the fact that there were notorious privacy issues involved with using Facebook. There were several other drawbacks to Facebook — such as that hosts were expected to use their real name, and that the content on Facebook groups is not easily searchable, and that social media groups tend to be less supportive of thoughtful posts/explorations than snippy and sometimes dismissive one-liners.
As the host groups moved almost entirely to Facebook groups, we’ve seen a certain “social-media-ization” of the host groups. In addition to the perennial problem of posting of ads and spam in groups, in many host groups (some more than others) we see regular bullying and dismissive posts, as well as poor moderation by the group leaders.
One of the most common forms of bullying, is hosts berating other hosts for having certain decisions/styles in their approach to hosting, or for being upset by things others insist must be viewed as “the cost of doing business.” I referred to this in the introduction to another recent article, see here:
Here are a few examples of this phenomenon as mentioned there:
Examples of such “touchy” issues — Thermostat settings. Yes, some hosts will insist that you cannot set limits on thermostat settings on your own property, that if you do, you’re the Grinch who ruined Christmas. Coffeemakers. There have been strident lectures delivered to hosts who use Keurig setups, that through proliferation of disposable plastic containers, they are responsible for the destruction of the planet. Duvet covers, when to wash. Some hosts adamantly insist if you do not wash every duvet cover after every reservation you should just pack up shop and close your business because you’re lower than pond scum. Never mind that hotels do not do this. Screening of guests and asking for photo of guest. Some hosts insist there can be no possible good use of a photo of the guest to a host, and that if you want to see a photo of a guest before they book, and dislike Airbnb’s new policy that prevents that, you’re probably a Klan member or other discriminatory and hateful toad just waiting to reject people on the basis of their race. House rules, perhaps most touchy of all….did you know that “Long rules…Bad host!”
For instance, here’s a comment that one host made towards another just this week:
Now I don’t know about you, but I expect polite and respectful adults to make some attempt to clean up if they pee or poop in their bed or in the tub or on the bathroom floor, and not to leave the explosion that occurred in the toilet for the next person to find.
In some groups, there is no room for disagreement. Hosts are expected to take the “correct” approach to some hosting issue or topic or Airbnb policy, and there’s no tolerance for those who take a different view. For instance, here’s a thread on Airhosts Forum where someone upset that Airbnb is hiding guest photos before booking, is basically told by more than one regular forum participant (including at least one of the groups’ moderators) that they must be an uptight, precious princess or disgusting discriminatory racist if they don’t like this policy:
This is very bad moderation, to express that kind of contempt for a host with a very legitimate concern. Reading the above posts, you’d have no idea that there are an enormous number of Airbnb hosts upset with Airbnb’s policy on hiding guest photos, and that it is actually possible to respect their concern, as Airbnb itself did with this meeting on the subject:
In the early days of the host community, there was more tolerance of hosts doing things their own way, and there was more support of hosts who were facing problems with guests. As well, and I think this is relevant, there were more in-home hosts, true homesharing hosts, whose situation and expectations of guests is naturally different than the large real estate company “hosts” we see now, who run their listings more like a standard hotel, who are now more commonly participating in host groups.
In the old days, if a large real estate company “host”, which was in essence really a hotel, showed up on the Host Community Groups like New Hosts Forum , they would be shown the door. We were clear these were groups for hosts, not hotels. This situation has nearly reversed itself today. I have observed that in many host groups, homesharing hosts are in the minority, and not only do large-scale offsite hosts sometimes show impatience to in home hosts, (eg, that we don’t just “get with the program” and run our homes just like hotels) but increasingly it seems that Airbnb has less interest in the concerns of homesharing hosts as well.
Also, there is an innate problem to social media like Facebook, which is that it encourages short and snippy, witty and perhaps dismissive comments, as opposed to thoughtful and complete self-expression. I’ve been told more than once, in a host Facebook group, that my posts are too long, and hosts dont’ have time to read all this. People like making snippety comments on Facebook, and I think group leaders need to realize, politeness may be passe in some groups. Mean and rude comments that stir up heated arguments can actually be more interesting to some people. I get the sense, observing how much activity there is on threads which get into nasty arguments, that people get intrigued and attracted by the drama and nastiness in these posts…somewhat like in the old days when in Roman arenas, slaves were required to fight to the death, or innocents were tossed to the lions.
There is a certain bloodthirstiness in human nature, which seems to satisfy itself in seeing people attacked and ridiculed. To some extent, we may all experience this at least in some small way. Shows like “Judge Judy” or “Survivor” play to this part of our nature, the part that likes to see others insulted or ridiculed, as Judge Judy does, or see someone axed, as occurs on Survivor show. Then too, this lasciviousness to see others ridiculed or held in contempt, fits in well with the new “righteousness culture”, what we might call a type of fundamentalism that can occur on either side of the political divide, where one side simply smugly congratulates itself on having all the correct answers, and views the other side as subhuman “deplorables” or racists or snowflakes, or whatever the snappy dismissive term-du-jour happens to be.
So , this “righteousness culture” seems to have inserted itself into various host community groups, such that (as in the example above about the Airbnb hiding photos issue) no other viewpoint or way of doing business is acceptable. One host I know calls the Airhosts forum the “Mean Girl group”, because of this nasty streak it has. A few host Facebook groups have the reputation of being stomping grounds for nasties and bullies, and the group leaders of these seem oblivious to the problem. I recently made the mistake of posting my new blog in one of these groups, and the first two comments on my post were dismissive, bullying responses to a thoughtful article.
In groups oriented to the discussion of problem guests, in spite of rules that ask that members respect the host posting about a problem issue, it’s common to see dismissive replies. Hosts will reply that that wasn’t a real problem, you’re too much of a princess or you should not be in business if you can’t handle this. Other hosts will object because they identify with the guest for one reason or another. The guest happened to be black, so the host suggests the real intent of the post was something racist. Or the host mentioned the guests’ nationality, in telling their story, and someone from that country is offended and takes it out on the host, assuming the host is implying everyone from this country behaves like this problem guest…even when they have said no such thing. Or the guest is middle aged, and a middle aged host takes offense. Or someone upset at a guest that caused serious problems for a host, is venting at the guest, poking fun at them in some way in order to try to bring relief through levity, and someone takes offense at the levity. Or a host complains about a problem that some hosts insist is much too minor, and the host is attacked on that basis. It goes on and on.
The result is, quite predictably, that some hosts no longer feel safe posting about nearly anything in the host groups, and some will come right out and say so.
One host recently posted in a Facebook host group, that she is quite reticent to post in the group because of the amount of the abuse in the group. She stated that she has flagged or reported the “trolls”, but to no avail, the “piling on” still occurs.
Another group member contacted an administrator of a group and privately conveyed that he was not willing to post in the group, because “the group seems to have taken an ugly turn, to be honest.” He indicated that “even one of your admin/moderators belittled someone recently for posting.” He indicated that there were multiple ways he had seen group members be rude to those posting, including making fun of the host’s home! He summarized that therefore he would not be posting.
In another host group, a host member was actually kicked out of the group for trying to warn other hosts about some young people apparently planning an illegal party at an Airbnb listing in that region. Which is a growing problem, something that plenty of evidence for can be found on social media posts. But this particular host group was marching in lockstep to the “righteousness culture” and had apparently collectively decided that all the warnings about young kids (who happened to often be young black kids) planning illegal parties at Airbnbs, were actually “fake” posts created by racists just to keep black people down. So they would not take legitimate threats to their business seriously, and were content to scapegoat and reject someone who was sincerely trying to help them. Such is the power of fundamentalist thinking and groupthink!
It’s not easy to moderate any kind of group, and host groups are no exception.
There is probably no such thing as a perfect moderator. But I know some people, including a few long time members of the host community, who come close and to whom I could give a Gold Star award! Some people have excellent mediation skills, but have a very hard time taking a firm approach to rulebreakers. Some people have an easier time taking a firm approach to those breaking group rules and common courtesy violators, but do not have as many strengths in mediation and diplomacy. To be an effective moderator, it helps a lot both to know oneself, and to know human nature. It helps to be kind and have a good sense of humor, but it also helps to be able to say NO and draw boundaries.
Perhaps the greatest problems exist in groups where the group leaders are not even aware of or bothered by the problems that are causing serious concern to their group members. If you are running a group and not even aware that people are avoiding your group because it’s gained a reputation as a hangout for bullies and nasties…this is a problem. If you notice a heated argument in your group, and insults starting to fly back and forth, and as the moderator your response is to smile and go “Hee Hawww!” and grab for some popcorn and start to place bets on who will win….well you may have some room for growth. Don’t convince yourself that your group is successful because it has a lot of members in it…as I described above in regards to the original host groups, one of the most dysfunctional groups, Anecdotes, was the largest host community group with over 64k members. However, the vast majority of those members didn’t regularly participate.
And in terms of who will win, well it’s likely to be the nastiest person with the thickest skin. The more sensitive ones are the ones who will lose out, because sensitive people avoid fights and unpleasantry, while the crude folks seem to thrive on just that.
To be an effective moderator, it will help if you can put yourself in the shoes of all kinds of group members, and try to see things through their eyes. Wisdom is called for, ideally, but how much is wisdom valued at this time?
Moderating is not just about removing spam and ads from groups. It is about mediating between members, and recognizing problematic dynamics…such as how it’s not really a good thing when the most popular posts in the group, the ones with the most activity, turn out to be the ones with the nastiest comments on them.
Some moderators will diligently remove nasty comments from the group, but are averse to removing the repeat perpetrators thereof. This is not sufficient, as it teaches those who repeatedly behave rudely and engage in bullying (and some who use offensive putdowns which may be racist or sexist), that they can do so with impunity. If the only consequence to their actions is that their posts end up deleted, then eh, so what. They still were able to get the satisfaction of having their rude or nasty comment read.. They are free to hate on others over and over and over again.
This situation is not dissimilar to the bad Airbnb guest which Airbnb refuses to do anything about. Just as we would not want a bad Airbnb guest, who repeatedly causes problems for hosts, to be enabled to continue their malicious behavior, out of some misguided idea that they are valuable to the Airbnb community, so also, host group leaders ideally should not view those continually making nasty and rude comments as essential to the host community, and allow them to continue their nasty campaign, possibly until the group is ruined because no one has had the brass to put an end to this unacceptable repeat behavior. The amount of damage that nasty comments and nasty group members can do to a group, should not be underestimated. Keep in mind that this damage may not always be visible. You will see some of the fights and heated arguments in the group, but what you may not see, until it’s too late, are all those who either decide not to participate, or who leave the group, because they are disturbed by the nasty behavior they have seen in the group.
Some suggestions for host group moderation:
Just as you would for guests in your home, have a screening process for applicants to your group, and dont’ accept just anyone. Vet your members.
Not only ask that group members treat each other courteously, but spell out specifically what is considered discourteous or unhelpful. Making unconstructive criticisms. Telling another host that they shouldn’t be hosting, because of something they said. Having a common practice of seeming to wait in the wings, waiting to leap out and police others’ language, the terms people use, finding fault with attempts at gentle levity, accusing other members of being racist or discriminatory or having the wrong views on whatever political issue. Repeatedly being contemptuous or dismissive.
Seek to cultivate real wisdom and a sense of the whole range of possible thought and views on any particular subject and/or in courteous disagreement. This will help you find a comfortable balance between allowing a discussion to get too heated and argumentative on the one hand, and on the other hand, allowing threads or conversations to be frequently shut down by people who seem to want to bully others by claiming to be “offended.” In this particular era, it needs to be recognized that it is quite possible to bully others by repeatedly claiming to be offended.
Being friendly and interactive in your group. Being a model of good behavior in the group. Praising members and their posts when you can. Deleting inappropriate comments or posts as quickly as possible, and speaking to members privately when they repeatedly post inappropriate content. Having a clear procedure you articulate to other moderators, about how to handle repeat problems with the same group members.
It may also help to be aware of how some group members behave on other groups. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen people request to join a particular host group, and be declined, based on one or more moderators’ awareness of that individuals’ behavior on other host groups. So just like guests who behave badly in someone’s home, may end up with a review on their profile that warns other hosts away from them, some host community group members may find that their reputation precedes them.
We might say “good riddance” in both cases.