The drafters of the online petition supporting Airbnb’s operations in New York City are keeping signers names semi-private to protect them from reprisal from landlords, according to Peers cofounder James Slezak. As of this writing, the petition is nearing 235,000 signatories.
The Peers petition for Airbnb in New York is different than other online petitions you’d find on sites like Change.org or nonprofit campaigns built on platforms like Salsa. We first wrote about the petition after Airbnb released a report on its stays in New York City as political pressure began to move against the company.
If you’ve ever signed an online petition to save some turtles or to defend net neutrality or anything else, you know that normally you’re asked for all kinds of information to go with your letter. The reason for this is simple: if you’re calling for action from legislators, they want to know that you can vote in their district. Which means, to take your request seriously, they need to know where you live.
The Peers petition isn’t open to that kind of doublechecking, though. Just below its explanatory text, the petition page says:
Important Note: We will only include your first name, last initial, and city when we deliver the petition.
In fact, they don’t even ask for a local address. They only ask for a zip code, which isn’t enough information to reliably determine a person’s State Assembly or Senate district in many cases, especially not in a place as dense as New York.
We caught up with Slezak at the Northside Innovation Festival Friday, after a panel he took part in, titled “The New Sharing Economy.” We asked him why the campaign seemed to be relying on semi-anonymity as it recruited supporters (even its organizer, “Mishelle,” goes by only her first name).
Slezak explained that the Peers team includes a number of experienced campaigners, but they opted for some privacy for signatories because of the level of rhetoric directed against Airbnb hosts by landlords, some of whom have said they have investigators scan listings to make sure none of their properties are posted to the site.
Slezak went on to call his organization itself an experiment. Just as all the new sharing economy platforms are an experiment in how people use their resources, he said that Peers is exploring this question, “Can we use the tactics of issue organizing to shift people’s behavior?”
Peers is meant to be an organization for users of the sharing economy, to promote it, grow it and advocate for its users’ interests. He even said that Peers would be happy to run campaigns critical of companies like TaskRabbit, Lyft or Airbnb if that were something members initiated.
One of the cofounders of Peers is Airbnb‘s head of community, Douglas Atkin. Slezak explained that Atkins has agreed to recuse himself from any decision relating to his employer.
During the panel, Airbnb‘s director for New York, Wrede Petersmeyer, said that his company’s goal is to work with governments to create a regulatory framework that works for their constituencies, acknowledging that even his political opponents have valid points. “One thing that’s been very powerful is a sense of momentum,” he said. “Every time another city passes a law or makes an adjustment toward the sharing economy, other cities start to see that it isn’t crazy.”