Before the pandemic, many couch surfers had probably never dreamt of using Couchsurfing™ for online events. After all, the main attraction has always been meeting people in person.
Unfortunately, public health recommendations still limit couch surfers everywhere from organizing meetups and events, and travel restrictions make it impossible for many to host or surf. Over the past few months, the rise of online events has become one of the only aspects of Couchsurfing™ that is keeping members active and engaged.
Now, the company has abruptly decided to ban online events, with its trust and safety team citing an “internal review of how [it] can best connect its members virtually.” When revealing the full guidelines, which were published on 21 March 2020, Couchsurfing™ support wrote:
“For the time being, hosting virtual events on Couchsurfing is not allowed. Our team is going through an internal review of how we can best facilitate connecting our members virtually. In the meantime, please do not share virtual meeting links (Zoom, Google Meet, Web-Ex, Teams, etc) or any external communication information that takes interactions off of Couchsurfing. All events posted in the event section must be in-person and follow local and state/country safety guidelines.
Shutting users out is not the answer
It’s worth mentioning that Couchsurfing™ pre-emptively decided to suspend members who organize these events, regardless of their standing in the community and without any warning. Users who attempt to organize new online events continue to face automatic account suspension, and some who were suspended prior to the new rules still have no idea what happened and why.
An already fractured community, disillusioned by the sudden implementation of a paywall, is splintering even further. Organizers who have been suspended can no longer attend or monitor their own events, some of which were planned months ago. Some of the banned users were even part of the ambassador team of volunteers. Communities have nowhere to go but off the platform to discuss what to do next and plan their online activities elsewhere.
The platform had every chance to connect people, foster collaboration, and build an even more tightly-knit global community of couch surfers—at a time when many of us are feeling more isolated than ever. Members were doing their best to keep their communities together through the pandemic—something that should have been appreciated, praised, and encouraged.
A better approach
Virtual events are powerful, helping build communities that may have never formed prior to the pandemic. In the future, they could completely revolutionize the way we travel—connecting and meeting people at our destination before we’ve even planned the trip.
But if there’s some reason why this had to be done, it could have been discussed with the community beforehand. And if the decision was still pushed forward, the very least Couchsurfing™ needed to do was inform members ahead of time. Not just an elite group of ambassadors or organizers either—the entire user base should have known this change was coming, and why.
Couchers.org refuses to accept that this is the correct way to treat a community.
On top of this, those who contribute the most—volunteers, organizers, community leaders, and hosts—should never feel ignored, tossed aside, or disrespected. It’s our indisputable goal to listen to what our growing community is asking for, develop a product that will be adaptable and collaborative, and communicate changes with every single member of our platform.
Although Couchers.org is new, the idea behind it—and the extremely talented people supporting the project—share an early belief: the community that has emerged from Couchsurfing™ can build a better platform than the one we have now. If you are a part of the couch surfing community, and you care about its future, you belong here and we can’t wait to have you with us.
Written by Emily. Published on 2021/03/25.
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