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They call it “ransackgate”

The “Airbnb horror story” is now being identified by a new twitter tag: #ransackgate.

The “-gate” ending suggests that there’s some kind of scandal going on, something unethical, some kind of coverup. We don’t know yet who’s covering up what, but now that Airbnb investor and Y Combinator founder Paul Graham has weighed in, it’s clear there are some differences of opinion. In his statement on his Hacker News website, Graham essentially said that Aribnb has been offering to help “EJ” all along, as she initially stated on her blog:

I would be remiss if I didn’t pause here to emphasize that the customer service team at airbnb.com has been wonderful, giving this crime their full attention. They have called often, expressing empathy, support, and genuine concern for my welfare. They have offered to help me recover emotionally and financially, and are working with SFPD to track down these criminals. (source)

However, in her followup post (the only other comment she has made to date), “EJ” appeared to backpedal on this recognition of Airbnb’s support:

But the staff at Airbnb has not made a positive contribution to me personally or my situation in any way, particularly since June 30. (source)

For the record, I’m not taking any stand as to whether “EJ” is real, or whether anyone robbed her. My beef is with the way this story is being reported. For example, TechCrunch from the start seemed to accept “EJ’s” story at face value:

The facts: Last month “EJ” wrote a long blog post about how a renter spent an entire week carefully robbing and trashing her home. Walls were cut through to get to locked valuables, including her grandmother’s jewelry. (source)

Nowhere in the story is there any questioning of “EJ’s” facts. And followup reporting in TechCrunch does nothing to acknowledge the inconsistencies that Graham points out between “EJ’s” original and later post. Instead writer Michael Arrington chooses to get into a pissing match with Graham.

So far, some of the best reporting I’ve come across is still from the “traditional” media (as represented online). In their original story and latest followup, USA Today contacts primary sources (not just “EJ” and Airbnb, but also the SFPD) as well as other interested parties. They raise questions and attempt to corroborate statements and — most important — generally avoid the echo-chamber like environment of the blogs, which tend to quote (and misquote) each other as a substitute to providing either facts or analysis.

As it stands, in my opinion there are still more questions here than answers. For example, I assume from what I’ve seen that “EJ” is herself a renter. Where’s her landlord in all this? Who is 19 year old “Faith Clifton” who was supposedly in the SFPD’s custody in connection with the robbery? Does she have any connection to “EJ”? Have any of “EJ’s” neighbors (supposedly there were witnesses) come forward to talk about what they heard and witnessed? How did renter “Dj Pattrson” get the key, and did “EJ” ever get it back again? Where are the pictures of the robbery and cleanup? And finally, where’s the timeline of events: was there any gap in time between the dates “Dj” was supposed to be renting “EJ’s” loft and when “EJ” returned from her trip?

Because as any student of scandal knows, a good gap can make for a juicy -gate.

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