Airbnb has apologized and promised to remove the controversial advertisements that the room-sharing service posted around San Francisco this week. In these ads, Airbnb wrote public notes to local government entities suggesting what they should do with the taxes Airbnb and its hosts pay—things like keeping the libraries open later and feeding expired meters. Some are describing these ads as “passive-aggressive,” “tone-deaf,” and “condescending.”
The ad that initially sparked this controversy was directed toward the city’s public library system, suggesting that it use Airbnb’s $12 million in hotel taxes to keep libraries open longer. But as San Francisco State assistant professor Martha Kenney pointed out in a Facebook post that has since gone viral, only a small percentage of that tax money actually goes to the library system. “However, had you donated that $8 million you spent fighting Proposition F directly to the public libraries you love so much, that could have made a bigger difference,” Kenney wrote.
As SF Weekly notes, this ad campaign comes less than two weeks before the city votes on Proposition F, a measure that would more strictly regulate Airbnb and which the company claims would decrease the hotel taxes it pays to the city. These ads, the magazine writes, are “the equivalent of being rude to a public worker and then yelling, ‘I PAY YOUR SALARY.’”
Airbnb has heard the complaints, though. Spokesman Christopher Nulty told Business Insider that the ads were merely intended to illustrate Airbnb’s tax contribution. “It was the wrong tone and we apologize to anyone who was offended,” he said, adding that the ads would be removed “immediately.” Further, he said, the ad campaign was not funded by the $8 million Airbnb had marked for fighting Proposition F.
Meanwhile, San Franciscans have been taking to social media to share photographs of the ads plastered on billboards and bus stops around town, which also include exhortations for public works to build more bike lanes and for the board of education to keep art in the schools. There’s also a billboard directed to the city’s tax collectors that reads, “You know the $12 million in hotel taxes? Don’t spend it all in one place.” And, in what seems to be a companion billboard, Airbnb adds, “But...if you do spend all $12 million in one place, we suggest burritos.”