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Uber Bans Racists Too

Internet firms like Google and GoDaddy are getting attention for shutting down a neo-Nazi website, but during this weekend’s violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, gig economy companies like Uber and Airbnb were forced to deal with white supremacists on the ground.

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Uber permanently banned white supremacist James Allsup from its ride-hail platform on Saturday after an Uber driver in Washington, DC, kicked him and alt-right leader Tim Gionet, better known as Baked Alaska on Twitter, out of her car for allegedly making racist remarks. The decision makes Uber one of a handful of tech companies that denied service to groups or individuals associated with the violent white supremacist rally that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday.

"Drivers always have the right to refuse service to riders who are disrespectful or make them feel unsafe, as the driver in this case rightly did," Uber said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. "We’ve reached out to the driver to make sure she’s okay, and express our support for her and how she handled this situation. The rider has been permanently removed from our platform."

According to Uber, Allsup and Gionet were riding past the National Museum of African-American History and Culture on Friday evening when their comments finally made their driver, an unidentified African-American woman, uncomfortable enough that she ended the ride and told the pair to leave. Gionet posted a video to Twitter in which he repeatedly asks the driver, “why are we racist?” The video ends shortly after the driver pulls away, leaving them standing beside the Washington Monument.

The exchange took place one day before the white supremacist group Unite the Right hosted a rally at the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville on Aug. 12. The rally turned violent, leaving one anti-racist protester dead and 19 others injured. Both Gionet and Allsup were reportedly scheduled to speak at the event, which Allsup later said he only attended in a media capacity. Neither immediately responded to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News. (Gionet was previously an employee of BuzzFeed.) Allsup has since resigned from his position as president of the College Republicans at Washington State University.

"The events surrounding the white supremacist rally in the City of Charlottesville are deeply disturbing and tragic," said Uber in a statement. "We stand against this hate, violence, and discrimination."

After talking with Gionet and Allsup’s Uber driver on Saturday morning, Uber decided to permanently ban Allsup, who tweeted about it Saturday afternoon. Uber said while it did initially issue Allsup an automatic refund after he filed a complaint, the driver was paid in full for the ride.

Meanwhile, also on Saturday, the company shared the following note with drivers in the Charlottesville area, warning them that a state of emergency had been declared following violent clashes, and reminding them of their "right to feel safe and respected when you use our platform."

In the aftermath of the violent protests, other tech companies have also pushed back when groups associated with the alt-right movement, including white supremacists, white nationalists, and neo-Nazis, have used their services to promote hate speech and encourage violence. On Sunday, the internet domain company GoDaddy refused to continue hosting the domain for a white supremacist website called the Daily Stormer. The Stormer re-registered with Google, only to be banned once again within hours. Smaller digital platforms, including the email newsletter service MailChimp and nascent chat app Discord, followed suit. But while these companies waited until at least 24 hours after the rally took place, gig economy companies like Uber and Airbnb, which facilitate interactions between strangers in real life, have to make these decisions much faster or risk putting their users in real danger.

Before the rallies, Airbnb decided to ban known white supremacists from its site, prohibiting some — including the well-known neo-Nazi Richard Spencer — from booking a place to stay at Charlottesville via the platform.

"Earlier this month, we learned that some people were organizing to stay in and hold a series of afterparties at several Airbnb listings while in town to attend this terrible event," said CEO Brian Chesky in a statement released Monday. "When we see people pursuing behavior on the platform that would be antithetical to the Airbnb Community Commitment, we take appropriate action. In this case, last week, we removed these people from Airbnb."

After a number of Airbnb guests publicly shared stories of racial discrimination in 2016, causing a public relations crisis for the company, Airbnb acknowledged that racist hosts posed a threat to users, and set to work devising a system to prevent them from joining the platform. Both guests and hosts now have to pledge not to harass or discriminate on Airbnb, known as the Airbnb community commitment, in order to use the site.

There are a number of scheduled rallies supporting the broader alt-right movement scheduled for the coming weeks, including March on Google events protesting the firing of James Damore to be held in nine cities, as well as neo-Nazi events in San Francisco and Berkeley. Chesky said in his statement that Airbnb will "continue to do all we can to enforce our community commitment."

But not all tech companies have made statements as strong as Airbnb’s. While Facebook and Twitter have policed doxxing and hate speech on their platforms since Saturday, neither will change their current policies around safety and speech on the platform.

Caroline O'Donovan is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.

Contact Caroline O'Donovan at caroline.odonovan@buzzfeed.com.

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