Couchsurfing faces backlash from some members after censorship charges

new orleans surfers

Couchsurfing in New Orleans.

 

Is Couchsurfing.org trying to silence its members? The worldwide community where people can connect with others and offer couches to strangers as part of a cultural exchange has come under fire in the past week for what some members claim is an effort to censor its users, as well as ongoing concerns about communication and safety.

In recent days, longtime members Don Shine and Justin Velander Holt, who had served as officially-sanctioned Couchsurfing ambassadors (essentially unpaid volunteers who work to improve the CS experience for all) for two of the site’s most active communities, Berlin and Chicago, respectively, had their accounts permanently deleted from the site.

CS management says the two violated the site’s terms of service, but many members believe Shine and Holt were booted because they were relentlessly critical of the website’s recent redesign, which even CS staffers admit made the site more difficult to navigate, as well as its perceived safety loopholes and lack of useful feedback from management.

“I’m still in a state of shock. I’m heartbroken, more than anything,” Holt says, noting that he invested hundreds of hours in the CS community over the years, from hosting surfers to organizing local events. “To immediately delete my profile without warning is galling.”

Holt admits he was blunt and aggressive in questioning CS management about various issues but says that fell far short of a threshold that would merit his removal. He also notes that he has yet to receive an explanation from CS about exactly why he was forced out. “I’ve never done anything to warrant an extreme termination. They won’t give me an answer in terms of how I’ve violated safety guidelines to warrant immediate removal. Four days after I called CS management a failure, I was terminated.”

Shine reposted pages from the CS support forum elsewhere online when CS staff shut down the forum. Couchsurfing management hints that was grounds for his removal, though the CS Community Manager had instructed users to copy and save any forum conversations they wanted to preserve.

Shine wonders why he was deleted without any notice. “Based on my previous experiences, I would have expected some sort of interaction with the safety team,” he says via email. “Their normal protocol is to contact someone who violates the terms of use, issue a warning, explain where they have violated the terms of use, and if they repeat the offense it can lead to termination of the user’s account, depending on the seriousness of the violation.”

Couchsurfing CEO Tony Espinoza is aware of the level of unrest in some segments of the community but insists the recent profile deletions were for legitimate reasons. “We have never deleted anybody because they have strong opinions or different opinions,” he tells me. “That’s just not how we operate.”

He mentions three primary reasons why CS deletes members: For creating multiple or duplicate profiles, when credible evidence exists that a user is a safety threat, or when members’ privacy is threatened, by scraping data from the CS site and reposting it, for instance.

When asked why these members didn’t receive warnings in advance of their deletion, Espinoza says, “It really is a case-by-case basis. In all these cases, it was very clear what the issues were, and they weren’t issues that we could, on any level, actually tolerate. Those three reasons were the reasons that drove the decision. If we get feedback that someone is actually threatening other members or committing assault, we can’t have them. It doesn’t matter how much they’ve been involved with the service. If a member is taking users’ data down off the site and posting it on the internet, we can’t have that.

“Part of the issue here is that there’s very clear rules that we have to, as a community, support and enable. It’s ironic because people that have large profiles and have lots of references are some of the people that are held to a standard around their behavior that is critical. For the community to hold itself together, we can’t have that become an abuse.”

Is there any chance the terminated members could have their profiles reinstated? “No, because the whole point of reinforcing safety and privacy in the community has to come first. We have to be able to uphold those boundaries for the community’s sake. I think it’s critical. There’s nothing vague about those rules.”

A couchsurfing bed for the night in St. Louis.

A couchsurfing bed for the night in St. Louis.

 

Members say they have other reasons to believe CS management is attempting to censor them beyond just the profile deletions. Users report that some individual posts they have made on the site have been removed without explanation. They also point to what seemed like a confrontational post made by a CS staffer in the ambassadors forum last week that included a laundry list of things CS ambassadors could not do or say without risking the loss of their ambassador status.

After several members predictably responded to the directive unfavorably, Couchsurfing management switched the ambassadors forum from public to private, meaning that rank and file CSers could no longer view any of the discussions there. That forum remains private as of this writing.

While the majority of CS’s six million worldwide members are either unaware or unconcerned about the censorship allegations, the backlash includes many of the site’s most experienced and dedicated members, who claim the site is losing its original grass roots  spirit.

Nearly 500 surfers have joined a Facebook event called “Censorship on Couchsurfing” in protest of what they see as management’s attempt to squelch dissent. Holt blogged about his interactions with CS staff, and another member published a blog post titled “Couchsurfing: A Sad End to a Great Idea.”

Other users have taken to Twitter and Reddit to make their voices heard, writing, “It is sad to see the Couchsurfing community is dying,” and, “Does anyone else find it interesting that the 3 of the 4 moderators of the ambassadors group have been couchsurfers less than a year and seem to have no experience Couchsurfing? Nothing but corporate desk jockeys running this site for their investors with no idea how the community actually works.”

Communication issues

Frustration has built up among members who say that when they reach out to CS headquarters with questions or concerns, they almost always receive generic replies that sound more like PR spin than an attempt to have a real dialogue.

One active CS member who wishes to remain anonymous calls the current staff “tone deaf,” pointing to a blog post from CS’s Head of Safety regarding the profile deletion issues, followed by a similar post from Espinoza on the same topic. “They were both full of corporate speak with no attempt to really speak to members or connect with us,” the user says. “That’s how all their communication is.”

The communication concerns, as well as lingering resentment in some circles over CS’s switch from a non-profit to a profit-making entity in 2011 and the fact that many members of the new management team had no experience with Couchsurfing prior to taking over the site, seem to have created an environment where a lot of users do not trust the current CS staff.

Asked what he can do to repair what some see as a damaged relationship between the two groups, Espinoza says, “The core of it is that people use Couchsurfing because it works and it connects them with people all over the world. I think our biggest responsibility is making sure that service continuously gets better and better, and as we grow, the highest quality people are connecting with the highest quality folks, that the experiences generated through Couchsurfing continue to thrive.

“Looking at what’s happening on the service, we have doubled in the last year and the service is growing great. And it’s not that the company is driving marketing or running advertising or getting traffic from Google or Facebook – we don’t. The traffic’s all coming directly to Couchsurfing.com. It’s organic, it’s word of mouth, it’s members begetting more members. I think that by delivering on the promise of Couchsurfing, by enabling the community to have the best experiences that they can, that’s what we have to do.”

chicago couchsurfers

Couchsurfers in Chicago during the Pitchfork Music Festival.

 

Safety concerns

Some members question how strongly CS prioritizes member safety. New users can create an account without any sort of identity verification or even a valid email address, and they can instantly begin messaging and interacting with other members.

Shine says, “I highlighted safety issues that I felt needed to be addressed and my post was removed. I kept raising issues that were important to the community, but these issues didn’t fit well with the business model they are trying to create. It is far easier to delete a few profiles than it is to change your business model.”

Espinoza points out that nothing has changed in terms of creating an account, that users in the past could always join the service without providing an email address. But one thing that has changed, Shine says, is that Couchsurfing posts are being indexed by Google, which means that users who have publicly posted their contact info on the site could find that information accessible by non-members.

“I think there is a lot of potential for the system to be abused by people with ill intent,” Shine adds. “Now it is possible to get a user’s personal information (email, phone number, home address, etc) by just typing a few words into a search engine and never even logging in to the site or creating an account.”

Espinoza says CS intends to remind users to be careful about posting their personal details. “This week we’re going to be rolling out some new filters to reaffirm for people that they’re sharing information in a public domain. Even if you do register and create a new account, you’re still sharing it with millions of people you don’t know – it’s a community of strangers. We promote openness and trust, but we do that by providing people with tools.”

He says that when it comes to safety, “The decisions and the approach and the responsibility really does reside with the member.”

Future of CS community

It remains to be seen what the future holds for members of the Couchsurfing community who are disgruntled about recent events. There’s no clear CS alternative, though some folks have begun embracing BeWelcome.org, a non-profit open source hospitality platform that is newer and has far fewer members than CS.

Regarding the possibility of CSers joining rival sites, Espinoza says, “There’s not a competitive attitude about it. We need to build the best Couchsurfing we possibly can, that works for as high quality a group of members as possible. It’s very much about building the best service that’s the most simple and successful, that really works for people. If people find other services that work better for them, I understand that.”

Some will never be convinced that management had legitimate reasons to remove Shine and Holt from the site. Holt says CS headquarters were just fed up with having to deal with user complaints over the past three months since the site redesign.

“They were tired of us, and Don and I were the most vocal. That’s what it comes down to.”

What do you think of the current state of Couchsurfing? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

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20 Responses to Couchsurfing faces backlash from some members after censorship charges

  1. Lorie March 9, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

    Hi scott, there is a flaw in tony’s comment about there not being a rivalry between cs and any other hospitality site. Other csers have been warned and some deleted for mentioning BW on their profile pages or referring surfers to other sites when unable to find a couch on CS. it was also clear to ambassadors to NOT refer to other sites, or badmouth cs.

    • Leo March 10, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

      Well, I confirm that… few of my posts were removed because we had create a weekly event which was both “Bewelcome” and “Couchsurfing”.

      And I know some guys whose profile was blocked because they had sent private messages to their CS friends encouraging to join BW.

      Censorship in CS is a fact, deletion is a fact as well.

  2. Don Shine March 9, 2013 at 3:20 pm #

    Thank you for the article. A very intresting read indeed.

    I do like how Espinoza glosses over the fact that the “scraping data from the CS site” was actually the forum that they closed from view. On that forum many users voiced their negative feedback on the developments on the site.

    On a blog post announcing the closure (you will notice that you are not allowed to leave feedback on the closure) users are instructed “If you do not wish to lose this content, please screenshot or backup the content that you wish to save”. The full entry can be read at the following url.
    https://support.couchsurfing.org/entries/23212851-Feedback-Forums-closure-End-of-Feb-2013

    It is this backup data that was made available. Many users may not have the technical know how to make a back up of all the content on forum. With the DMCA notice that was recieved by the hosting providers stated the following: ” The infringing use by http://csberlin.com/ can be found at this URL: http://cs-support.csberlin.com/support.couchsurfing.org/home.html and is a direct reproduction of our support page referenced above. We request that the entire subdomain located at http://cs-support.csberlin.com/ be removed as it is infringing Couchsurfing International’s rights in its entirety.” and came for the Couchsurfing legal Department. What is VERY interesting is the fact that they are claiming they own the users feedback that was given.

    It might be an idea to read the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information take on Couchsurfing’s Terms of Use.
    http://www.bfdi.bund.de/EN/PublicRelations/PressReleases/2012/18_CouchSurfing.html?nn=410156

    He said “The changes are unacceptable. Under German and European data protection law, they would be inadmissible. The new Terms of Use force the users to waive any control over their data if they want to continue to use the service.”

  3. Hayko Kunze March 9, 2013 at 3:21 pm #

    What do I think of the current state of Couchsurfing? Please view on youtube:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkyRDUKChtg

    It’s f*cked up.

  4. Michael Pas March 9, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    I have been a longtime member of CS, having surfed with many dozens of members and offered my hospitality on numerous occassions. It pains me to see how a great community is being dismantled over such a short period of time.

    All communication from CS refers to how badly programmed the site used to be, how unprofessional the previous staff was and how old-fashioned the old volunteers are.

    But if you look at the guys running the show now, they only have a CS profile since a couple of months and almost no positive references from real members.

    To me it is clear that they are on a mission to get more members (therefor removing safety checks): using facebook, getting rid of “critically-outspoken” ambassadors and removing useful tools like the Welcoming Members.

  5. The Sherni March 9, 2013 at 3:33 pm #

    For you Scott: Thanks! Great job! First thought: please break these up into separate blog posts for easier reading and commenting on speciific issues. Second thing – shop a version of this to Wired etc… tell them if they ask for a better/different article that many insiders will help you!

    To Tony Esposito: sorry this is utter bullshit.
    They broke no guideliens except unwritten ones that you think wil prevent the problem and the publicity from growing. You are WRONG. Check with the modern world, content and customer are king and you are actively destroying both on CS.

    To investors reading this – thousands of us can back up Scott’s views and reporting from first hand experience. This is not a small disgruntled group – these are the CORE USERS.
    Omidyar i know at least has standards of integrity – we, the users seriously request that you look into an abuse of your investment in terms of DESTROYING the good thing that existed in favor of something that they do not even understand how to create. I’m a business strategist, have been following this story closely since 2006, and just want to let you know that CS will be going down in history as one of the worst-managed social networks ever – its main purpose will be for us to draw lessons on how NOT to do things.

    Tony Espinoza: seriously, bow out now before your rep is RUINED.
    You guys don’t know it, but you should be planning for class action lawsuits that will set new precedents, and that is just in the USA, much less the rest of the world.

    Please quit lying Tony Esposito, the time for that is OVER. Plus please note all your advisors have been giving very bad advice!

  6. Kasper Souren March 9, 2013 at 4:56 pm #

    “doubled in the last year and the service is growing great”?

    Doubled what? Alexa is showing something else. And from data not anymore available at this point it seemed as if couchsurfing had its peak in the month right before the “conversion”.

    It’s also quite interesting to get an inside view in the company through Glassdoor. “There’s no strategy and no vision. A lot of stress and panic lately, resulting in last minute cancellations. If they don’t fire me soon, like most of the people who worked here when I started, I’ll have to quit before I go crazy or get an ulcer.”
    Kasper Souren recently posted..Some linguistic origins of hospitality

  7. Angelica March 9, 2013 at 6:41 pm #

    I m in CS from April, 2008 and it has changed a lot! At the begining we could have healp of the staffs. Now it s a mess and it s no more true. I wasn t accepted by an ambasseur of a group of Sao Luís, Brazil because of my photo witch was with my family!! I told him we are several and he insisted that I ll be accepted after changing the photo for one with myself!! Even asking for the staffs on c o n t a c t u s … The staffs told me to change the photo just to satisfact the ambasseur s. Even if it doesn t make any sense and had nothing to do with CS original s meaning: cultural interchange, friendship, make a better world and a unique without border, receive by pleasure and so on. To be honest I m no more receiving or couchsurfing last months. And I m going to Sao Luís with my old parents 82yo and 76yo and I just would like to meet some people from there to show them how wonderfull CS could be…nothing to be hosted. Just to post in the group and to meet somewhere in a restaurant and talk about the area and connected them to Sao Luís people!! What a shame… I wasn t accepted in the group by someone who didn t accept the photo s profile!!!…

  8. Couchsaver March 9, 2013 at 7:06 pm #

    Tony Espinoza claims “It’s very much about building the best service that’s the most simple and successful”.

    That would be nice. But the reality is that the website has become almost unusable, that even the most experienced users are struggling with figuring out how to find a host now, how to find all the important information or to stay in touch with their local community as Couchsurfing has removed some key features and links to others, removed community guidelines and the wiki pages, and made the public Ambassador’s group private to hide the problems rather than solve them. Many users are now afraid to post anything because they don’t know if it is going to end up on Google or if it can get them in trouble with the censors while others, unaware of these issues are exposed to serious privacy and safety problems because of Couchsurfing’s thirst for more clicks through search engine indexing, even disregarding users’ privacy settings. The support forum has been removed because it showed how many people had problems with the above. The monthly webcasts were canceled because even after removing the live chat feature during the webcasts Espinoza and his team found it too difficult to face upset users, even in a one-way broadcast.

    Is that the “best service” that for-profit Couchsurfing which received $23 million in venture capital can provide? Successful in what? In turning against it even the most loyal volunteers who for 18 months had defended and excused every wrong move from the secret “privatization” of the non-profit assets over the systematic destruction of the website and the implementation of outrageously abusive terms of use and privacy policies qualified as unacceptable by the German data protection authority to now a totalitarian approach to membership which Couchsurfing tries to pass off as safety measures?

    In his next interview I would like Tony Espinoza to explain how trying to silence the members and volunteers who press for safety improvements and not only make concrete recommendations for these but even develop tools which help members make more informed, safer decisions, improves safety, and how any of what the above mentioned dedicated volunteers did or said was detrimental to safety rather than helpful.

    To Benchmark, Omidyar, Nine Point, General Catalyst and Menlo Ventures: When are you going to realize that the management you brought in is only good at shooting the messengers and creating unnecessary problems rather than solving those they found at their arrival and that if you let them continue down that path you can kiss every cent you invested good-bye? By the way, I’ll let you in on a secret: Couchsurfing does not have 5 or 6 million “deeply engaged members”. That’s the number of profiles ever registered including those never filled, never used, no longer used, the fakes, the duplicates, those deleted, those hidden, and what have you, and whatever is left will soon consist mostly of freeloaders and other wannabe travelers looking for free accommodation because that’s all they can afford. Now, redo your math with that and make sure you are sitting down when the rate of return comes up! That Fenton guy is laughing all the way to Hawaii and he doesn’t even have a college degree, let alone your MBAs!

  9. Ulf Peter Florian Kleinings March 10, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

    As much as I loathe this “army-style” or “law-and-order”, oppressive, inflexible, unfair (sic!), unbearably arrogantly patronizing and all-in-all just very, very stupid approach to whatever exactly it may be which the safety people on CS foolishly believe to be “members’ safety” – I also gotta say that I cannot help but feel that those who now lament so loudly about these recent acts of “censorship” kind of got their comeuppance to a certain degree (incl. perhaps some of those who now got deleted)!

    It feels to me that they now pay the bill for:
     
     
    A) not having spoken out against that “censorship” or oppression (what I call: patronizing!) that has been going on on the CS website for many years now and, in fact, even having become accessories to the crime when they (to the extent to their “mod powers”) have basically committed similar acts as the kings of their little sandboxes (the mods of “their” groups)

    B) having ignored and perhaps even negated the views (and even existence) of all those who feel similarly about how those that have now become so CS critical have for so long acted similarly in how they “run their groups” as these groups’ moderators, when they still considered themselves to be part of the top circle of the CS organization

    C) seem to have lost their focus on what is great about CS (the community, the actual members, the real CS life in real places!) by being so fixated on the CS organization running the CS website and their (real or imagined) part of that
     
     
    Do I think that wrongdoing should be punished with wrongdoing?
    Certainly not!
    I can feel nothing but loathing for supporters of the “capital punishment” and believe those who take satisfaction from such “an eye for an eye” acts of vengeance to be even lower than those whom they feel they treated like they deserved it!
    (N.B.: I do NOT mean to say that this is what the CS organization did now. They clearly would not “punish” anyone for any of what I just listed above and which I myself loathe so much – for that is, of course, what they believe to be the right approach to “members’ safety” themselves…)

    I just say that I find it hard to fully sympathize with people for who for years took part in acting wrongly (or did for long – or perhaps “in general” still do – support such a medieval way of thinking themselves) and then suddenly become the loudest critics of such behavior when things turn against them…
     
     
    I should also add a D) to the 3 points (A-C) I made above!
    For I also believe that those who feel so hurt and heartstricken by having their profiles gotten deleted now pay the price for having so foolishly adhered to this ridiculous profile-fetishism that is being preached to all CS’ers all the time as if taking silly online profiles so damn seriously were some kind of “the single path to everlasting blessedness”. If I were one of those idiotic conspiracy theorists who had the biggest run of their lives ever since CS went pro-profit I’d now even speculate about whether perhaps the CS leadership created this sick emotional dependence of their profile that so many CS’ers seem to have not least to have a powerful weapon against those CS’ers in their hands: the threat to delete the CS’ers beloved profile:-D

    So these CS’ers got their profiles deleted – so what? Who could possibly stop them from creating new ones? If they have their old profiles saved they can simply upload that and put a link to that old profile on the new one and still be part of the (real) CS community and still surf with and host and meet real CS’ers in the real life in real places – just like before. They won’t even have to make any CS’ers migrate to any other platform for that.
    It may seem that the organization that runs the CS website holds all the cards – but that is really a very daftly erroneous belief! The only real power they’d have would be to close down the site for good – but that they obviously can’t do. Nor can they afford to make it less open (with regards to how easy it is to create a CS profile). And they clearly have no power at all over the parts of CS life that don’t originate from the CS site so much but from Facebook and other online places.
    But the possibility to create as many profiles as one needs – once per week if needed – and thus continue to take part in the CS community really gives all the power to the users. At least to those who are not so sickly in love with their own profile…

  10. Roy Marvelous March 12, 2013 at 2:06 am #

    Couchsurfing as we know it doesn’t exist anymore. It’s now a startup with venture capital, managed by people who have never surfed or hosted and employing mostly people who have never hosted or surfed. Yes, membership has doubled but go try to find a couch now if you aren’t a young pretty girl. Couchsurfing is not even about hosting/surfing anymore: http://workingholidayvisaguide.com/hosting-couchsurfers/

    The beauty of Couchsurfing version 1 & 2 was that it was built for Couchsurfers by Couchsurfers. Couchsurfing version 3 is the same “brand” but it’s a very different entity to what is was pre-2011. Maybe the community was always destined to collapse; how many communities can double in size each year, yet still retain it’s values?

    Unfortunately, some members who remember the old Couchsurfing are still in denial. That’s like reminiscing over Netscape, Friendster, Napster or Digg. Yes, there were GREAT times being a Couchsurfer but you know what, the website doesn’t need to exist for us to exist. We need to now move forward in a productive way.

    I hosted strangers before I heard of Couchsurfing. I will continue to host them using BeWelcome.org.
    Roy Marvelous recently posted..Life After Working On Cruise Ships (AKA The Real World Is Strange)

  11. Eisenberg March 12, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

    I don’t get it when Espinoza says that he has no problems with ‘competitive’ websites. Why are members then being asked to remove simple references to for example http://www.bewelcome.org? Surely this small open source community can’t be a threat to big corporate CS?

  12. Katie March 17, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

    Thanks for this. I joined Couchsurfing back in 2009 as I was gearing up for a RTW trip. I hosted a few people in Chicago and had good experiences but then as I actually hit the road, I didn’t end up using it once to actually stay with anyone (I used it a couple times just to meet up with people to see a city). I did searches a few times but usually found that available hosts were all male (which I didn’t feel comfortable with) or much younger than me (I’m 36) and all about partying (which really wasn’t appealing). I also found the search engine function to be incredibly annoying, which discouraged me even more.

    After reading this post, I just went ahead and deleted my account altogether.
    Katie recently posted..How Travel Didn’t Solve Anything

    • Scott March 19, 2013 at 11:21 pm #

      I’ve used it a lot as a traveler but things have definitely changed recently. There are issues with the search and couch requests features right now, which they are working on. The Chicago community is still great and the weekly meetups they hold are a good time.

  13. guineveruca March 24, 2013 at 11:31 am #

    thanks for this article. I was giving TPTB the benefit of the doubt after changing to a B Corp, because they had no option but to go for-profit (the IRS declined their non-profit status), but I’m startled by the sheer ineptness of the current staff, and how significantly they’ve damaged an amazing project in the last 4 months.

    Tony Espinoza’s response sounds good, except it says essentially nothing. And it’s ludicrous that staffbots continue to say how great the new site is …. the rollout of the wretched Places function should be used as a cautionary tale for any business considering changes to their website. The website is now incredibly slow, location data is STILL inaccurate, and it is much more difficult to properly search for hosts. It is, however, now very easy for people who have just signed up to flood place pages with messages of “Doooooooood, who wants to let me stay on their couch?”

    The closing down of the (already hard to find) feedback forums just shows that CS Inc is sticking their collective head further in the sand. The site is perfect. All the changes are fantastic. Community Manager Sam Houston is not a worthless corporate shill. No dissent will be tolerated.

    Sigh

  14. Rick April 4, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

    I’ve been an active member of the Couchsurfing community since 2008. In that time I’ve hosted well over 100 wonderful folks, and traveled myself to multiple states within the U.S. and to several countries, hosted by couchsurfers. I have even given a TED talk touting the great experiences I have had with couchsurfing. But the network certainly isn’t what it used to be, which was a great tool for hospitality and a welcoming community.

    It appears that what we have now is a management organization that is deaf to the interests of its constituency of members. There are now-closed discussion groups, no apparent way to offer feedback or suggestions, a mysterious beta testing group, and a couchsurfing search tool that is far inferior to what it used to be. In fact, I’ve never seen software take as big a step backward as Couchsurfing was able to achieve.

    To mention just a few of the problems I’ve run into:

    The “ambassador” system is non-functional. Of the three ambassadors in my area, one couple no longer hosts guests, another couple never has although they travel a great deal staying with others (a one-way street not in keeping with my definition of ambassador), and the third answers 35% of his couch requests. I inquired about becoming an ambassador myself but have not heard back. Then again, it’s only been two years since I asked.

    The search for a host is very much more complicated than before. The earlier version allowed you to choose a country, then a region or state, then a city, with some indication of how many hosts were available there. Now you’d better know the name of the city where you want to travel in advance. We formerly were getting around 5-6 requests a week in season; that has since dropped to perhaps one every two weeks. Our profile is unchanged, other than our having gathered many more positive references; I can only posit that decline in requests is because the searching has become much more difficult.

    I have developed software myself and know that it can be a challenging experience of trial and error at times. But to have witnessed the couchsurfing powers that be close themselves off to my/our feedback about the problems leaves me despairing about the future viability of the whole network. What a loss that will be.

  15. Ricki June 17, 2013 at 2:00 am #

    this is a story of a friend of mine. i wanted his voice to be heard since CS tries to make him not exist by deleting not only his profile, but also later censoring his complaints) so, yes! and now that we realize how fascistic this organization is, what can we do about it?! i just make it a personal mission to post on Every forum stating injustices against the org. it makes me SICK, especially as a woman, to feel like the only reason i am being hosted is to be a potential f@$k buddy…OR to be censored about my opinions on MY page! or whatever the case may be! the fact that there is no investigation into what happened, no questions, just a pulled plug! i am OUTRAGED! it’s disgusting and i will NOT stand for it! and i encourage ANYBODY with similar experiences to speak up, and let our voices be heard!

    “Hello,

    My name is Idji and I am blind. I am half French, half English in my education but I have a French passport.

    I am so sorry to be blind. On Couchsurfing it is even dirty and forbidden! Yes, I tried to open a profile on Couchsurfing and I have been deleted two times because I AM BLIND.

    The first time I have been deleted because I was asking my friend to write for me. I was dictating my text but she was writing and I specified in my profile that I was doing so. Then Couchsurfing deleted my profile, explaining that my girlfriend having already a profile it was a fake profile from my girlfriend because one is not allowed to write for somebody else!

    So the armless people, paralysed people, blind people you can forget Couchsurfing. Like in Germany in the past, the handicapped people are not welcome.

    As I don’t give up quickly I wrote a second profile… well… more exactly the same one, where I was specifying that I used “Jaws”, a system that allows blind people to write on the internet. This time I wasn’t going through somebody else to write my profile but as unfortunately I’m still blind it stayed dirty and I was deleted again so that Couchsurfing stays clean of handicapped people.

    And that is not all. There is a guy called Sam from Rome who behaved in an obsessed way with my girlfriend because he wants only sex . He went with my girlfriend on bike to visit Rome. They were supposed to go away for two hours. Of course I stayed in the house. How could I join? And it makes me happy to leave my friend visiting Rome in a different way. After two hours I started to worry and my friend was asking to go home to respect the time of two hours.

    And Sam said, yes, yes, we are on our way. But my friend was lost in the middle of Rome and Sam went on lying to my friend, wasting time. Finally after a lot of arguments, my friend came back to the house more than five hours later.

    During this time, of course, I worried more and more. In the house where I was, i.e. in the house of Sam, leave also two old women (his aunt and grandma, I think). As Sam has a mobile I said “Could you call your grandson to know if everything is fine?” and she answered “I call no one, you go back to your room and you say without moving”.

    As a blind person I was absolutely kidnapped. After more than four hours I could find the door out, which is not easy for a blind person, and I could escape the house. I was in the corridor, knocking on every door and asking to call the police. Some neighbours tried but it was always engaged. You know, that is Rome. After a long time in the corridor my friend arrived from her five hour tour and guided me back to Sam’s house.

    There my girlfriend and I we had a big argument against Sam to whom we said “Ok, we call the police”. He was there, afraid and very apologetic, and he said “Please stay home, I’m so sorry. I will do everything to be apologetic”. The next morning ,very early, we left.

    And when we try to leave a bad reference to Sam, each time I am deleted because in spite of the darkness of this man, I have something even more disgusting; I am blind!

    This Sam is on the two websites: Couchsurfing and BeWelcome. On BeWelcome we left a clear negative reference and everybody can know who this man is. But on Couchsurfing this man is highly protected.

    In spite of his protection he has quite a lot of bad references where a lot of girls are specifying that this man is obsessed about sex. So the girls can stay, but me as a blind person, despite this horrible story I am not allowed to write anything because I am worse than Sam, I AM BLIND!

    Here is what the leaders of Couchsurfing wrote to me:

    “ Idji’s profile was deleted because it directly breached our Terms of Use. Let me explain this in greater detail. Profiles in our system can only be created and used by the person they represent (in this case that would have to be Idji). I don’t say that Idji is not a real person, on the contrary! But members are not allowed to create or use a profile on behalf of somebody else. Since you were the one who created that profile for Idji, our Terms of Use were directly broken (even if you didn’t mean to)”

    Isn’t it disgusting? It reminds me the SS during the war.

    In France, which is a democratical country, the blind people are respected. There is a national association for the protection of blind people and when I am going to be in France I will go to this association to sue Couchsurfing for discrimination against handicapped people.

    On Couchsurfing and BeWelcome, when I travel I always try to be friend, but even more to help a lot. In Romania there is a guy, Costel, that I helped quite a lot and he did a film about me, spontaneously. I leave here the reference of this film on YouTube so that everybody can see how I behave when I travel on Couchsurfing or BeWelcome.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=sMVdEGI8MMg

    Well… today it will be only BeWelcome. So that you can see through this little film that in spite of being blind I am not a stinking piece of shit that deserves only a couch in a concentration camp. I think that this story is absolutely incredible in darkness but it is really the truth.

    About Sam and my blindness we kept every dialogue we had with Couchsurfing that will be of course part of the file to sue them. I am ready to send it to anyone who wants the file that we have about this story.

    I am happy today to be on BeWelcome where it seems that the handicapped are welcome. Thank you to BeWelcome to exist because in spite of being blind I feel like going on to exist, to have friends, and to help other people.

    Thank you for your reading.”

    • Scott Shetler June 19, 2013 at 9:43 am #

      Thanks for sharing your friend’s story, Ricki. You would think that CS would allow blind people to have a friend create a profile for them. That seems like a case where the regulations need to be relaxed.

      • Ricki July 14, 2013 at 2:33 pm #

        Yeah! one would think that since this is a site/org FOR THE PEOPLE…. But apparently not. That’s why i changed to BeWelcomed.com. We (my blind friend AND others) REFUSE to take this sitting down! this is Absolute Discrimination!!! CouchSufing has NO IDEA who they are messing with. As far as my research has found, we are not the only people who they have done something like this to. MANY people have had their profiles deleted for ‘personal’/selfish reasons, and this will not Stand! So, anybody out there who have had their profiles deleted for ‘causing trouble’ or simply being discriminated against, Please speak up, and fight for what is right! we will FIGHT!

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