from corporation to social movement: the future of lobbying in the sharing economy 

After so narrowly defeating the San Francisco ballot calling for restrictions on short term letting, Airbnb intend to step up their mobilisation of hosts and users to help defeat legislative obsticles to their expansion:

But when Airbnb’s executives look out at the world, they don’t see a fragmented puzzle of local politics and planning codes. They see Moscow, where Russians are renting out rooms on Airbnb as a means of surviving the country’s current recession. They see Havana, where Cubans were listing their homes in droves They see, as Lehane said to a room full of reporters over breakfast the morning after the election, a global network of guests and hosts that, if politically organized by and in favor of the company, could be enormously powerful.

And so organizing and training them is exactly what Airbnb plans to do, using its victory in San Francisco to unite Airbnb’s most passionate users into a series of clubs in cities around the world. The goal is to have created 100 of them by 2016. When election season rolls around that year, legions of customer advocates will be ready and waiting to come out against any group or individual who doesn’t wholeheartedly embrace Airbnb and what it stands for.

What I find particularly interesting about this is the role of vested interests on the part of many of the hosts. This begins to take on a rather feudal character when we consider that in some cases those being  mobilised are financially dependent on the income stream Airbnb opens up for them. 

There’s also an interesting observation in the article about the heterogenous policy climate that Airbnb, in common with many comparable platform companies, find themselves confronting on the municipal level. This results in a remarkably pronounced structural imperative to seek the harmonisation of regulation across the cities in which they operate:

While the company is headquartered in San Francisco and fought hard there, the company has property listings in 34,000 cities, each of which, according to global head of policy Chris Lehane, “has its own flavor.” The sheer variety of municipal legal codes has been repeatedly cited by Airbnb as the reason the company can’t create a customized product for each city depending on its laws. While cities like Philadelphia, Milan, Frankfurt and Amsterdam have, according to Lehane, embraced Airbnb and been willing to work with it on regulations, relations have been rockier elsewhere. Santa Monica cracked down on the company in the spring, and in October, Airbnb had to fight off regulations in Québec, the first of their kind in Canada.

This is another example of how corporate trends at the leading edge of digital capitalism intersect with a much longer term tendency towards post-democratic drift, one which is in many cases much further developed at the municipal level than at the national level. In essence: how well equipped are other local groups to resist the lobbying of platform providers and their mobilised user base? Are they less able to do so than they would have been previously? 

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