I just finished reading “Marauders of Hope” by Aruna Ravikumar(@aruna.writes on IG, @aruna_writes_ on Twitter). This book is an in depth look at the multi-level marketing industry and all the misery it causes around the world, particularly in India. She also offers guidance on what you can do to help stop this menace.
Aruna pulls no punches by describing these companies for what they truly are: pyramid schemes that exploit the desperate and ignorant to enrich the few at the top. They manage to get away with this through powerful lobbying arms and taking advantage of loopholes and ambiguities in the law. Many people are enticed into joining these schemes by promises of riches and cult-like brainwashing techniques to keep them in the club. They’re pyramid schemes but use products to camouflage what they’re really about.
Billions of dollars are looted from the gullible in this manner. Amway in the U.S contributes heavily to the Republican party; Betsy DeVos, secretary of education, belongs to the DeVos family which founded Amway. Trump himself has been involved in mlm and other scams. Politicians and government officials in India are similarly paid off or are in cahoots with the criminals.
But Aruna has not given up hope, and neither have I. As she shows in her book, there are many people around the world trying to spread awareness of these predatory schemes. I thought the chapter about the various scientists, government officials and consumer advocates fighting mlm in India, in spite of threats and legal setbacks, was particularly inspiring.
Besides corruption, misunderstandings and lack of political will have hindered prosecution, but every now and then the crooks are arrested and some companies do get shut down(at least temporarily).
I’d recommend this book to anyone who wants to know how this predatory industry works and how it’s able to achieve a veneer of legitimacy to far too many people(including vegans). If you’re tired of people trying to recruit you or seeing friends and family getting exploited, get involved and spread the word! Visit MLMtruth.org for more info.
I am sometimes asked why I am so strongly opposed to the MLM (multi-level marketing) industry. As they usually say, there’s a million problems in the world, why focus on MLM? Why devote space on your blog to MLM?
This often comes from well-meaning people who focus on what they consider to be far more pressing issues affecting our country and the world: racism, domestic violence, food insecurity, climate change, among other issues. Definitely all things worth fighting, and causes I support.
The reason I fight MLM, or network-marketing, is not just because it’s harmful, but because it’s also very misunderstood. Misunderstood to the point that many people mistakenly think of some MLM companies as philanthropic endeavors because they sometimes champion good causes. However, because these companies operate in a highly unethical fashion they make terrible allies.
By spreading awareness of the predatory nature of MLM companies, we in the anti-MLM movement can help strengthen good causes by helping them steer clear of these exploitative companies.
I think it may help to know my backstory, to understand the road I’ve traveled that led me to the anti-MLM movement. Before the anti-MLM movement came along, there was little online information to warn people about this pernicious industry. Sure, a few anti-MLM sites(mostly focused on Amway) existed, but there was little cooperation, they didn’t update very often, and they seldom went into detail about the psychological manipulation these cult-like companies use. It was the Dark Ages, where MLM reigned supreme because there was little to oppose them.
It usually took getting victimized by an MLM company or witnessing a friend or relative getting victimized to learn what MLM was all about. Or at least attending one of their presentations. This is where Primerica comes in.
Over 15 years ago, an acquaintance tricked me into attending a Primerica presentation in this office building in my neighborhood. I really had little idea what Primerica was all about before going there; vaguely I thought it was financial services.
So as I sat through the presentation, about all the amazing money-making opportunities Primerica offers, my internal BS-meter started to go off. Recruit X number of people and you rise to this level and make all this money, and then those people you recruited recruit people, and those people recruit people, and it goes on and on, sounding too good to be true. I had already sat through presentations for both Amway and Cutco years before this and the spiel was very similar. I almost got up and left but my fascination was stronger than my desire to leave; I also struggled to remember what this kind of business strategy is called.
I had a barely rudimentary understanding of multi-level marketing at the time, or whatever they call it, but it was obvious that’s what I was dealing with here. I understood that it was a scam or at least a very risky undertaking and was best avoided. I still vividly remember those big fake smiles from the representatives.
As soon as I got home, I went to my computer and in a frenzy started to do a lot of online research as well as research at the library. For a while there, I was obsessed. Very few anti-MLM or scam-buster sites existed at the time; blogging was in its infancy, and social media hardly existed(remember this was over 15 years ago). I found little information on Primerica, but just enough to have my suspicions confirmed. It seemed over 90% of anti-MLM information concerned Amway, the granddaddy of all MLMs. Again, this was the Dark Ages.
At the time, by far the best place to get a thorough education on how MLMs operate were skeptical messages boards, which I was already a regular visitor of. These sites were also devoted to debunking UFO sightings, quackery, and 9/11 conspiracy theories. Some message boards on skeptic sites had very long, lively discussions going on between anti-MLMers and MLM defenders, often involving lots of juicy insults by both sides. I occasionally participated, and tried my best to behave. Usually discussions revolved around Amway but sometimes other MLMs were discussed.
I started to notice how MLM defenders refused to answer certain questions, and would frequently engage in extreme mental acrobatics and torturing of the English language to explain away the obvious problems with MLM and that pesky 99% failure rate.
The two most important things I learned from these early discussions was:
The physical products of MLM companies are just a facade; the real product is the “amazing” opportunity.
MLMs are pyramid schemes which lobby government at all levels to buy themselves protection, and use all sorts of other deceptive strategies to give the illusion of legality.
With this new knowledge I was never tricked into another MLM meeting again. I could smell an MLM from 20 miles away. As far as Primerica is concerned, I started to realize my old neighborhood was Primerica occupied territory. Everywhere I looked nothing but Primerica! Primerica stickers plastered on everything, Primerica fliers, and even tree-plantings would say “thanks to Primerica”.
So I did whatever I could to warn everyone in my circle about this company. Sometimes they tried to recruit my friends. A lot of people already knew it was a scam, but some other people either did not know or were on the fence. Because of the tree-plantings, and contributions to schools and anti-drug programs, many thought of Primerica as a very generous, charitable corporation. I sometimes heard horror stories from people who were victimized by this company or other MLMs. Like I said, information critical of MLM and Primerica in particular was scarce at the time. Nowadays it’s easy to find out what it’s all about. According to Wikipedia:
In 2012, Primerica was the target of multiple lawsuits alleging that the company’s representatives sought to profit by earning commissions after convincing Florida firefighters, teachers and other public workers to divest from safe government-secured retirement investments to inappropriate high-risk retirement products offered by Primerica. In January 2014, the company set aside $15.4 million to settle allegations involving 238 cases
After getting my basic education in MLM thanks to my rather brief Primerica experience, and my compulsion to learn everything I could about Primerica and MLM, I moved on and MLM started to fall by the wayside, for the most part. Sure I would still occasionally run into the Primerica reps, but more often I was running into annoying Herbalife reps both in person and online, and they were cut from the same cloth as Primerica and Amway reps. They all had the same big fake smiles. To get them off my back I would lie and say I was very interested in going to their presentation, but then I would fail to show up. I still remember the angry emails and voice messages.
Due to so many things going on in my life, as well as all my running and joggling, and getting increasingly involved with vegan groups, fighting MLM wasn’t exactly a priority. But then a few years ago I started noticing something disturbing on social media — there were vegans pushing MLM! Just as Primerica had invaded my neighborhood years before this, MLM was invading my space, my pristine little corner of the vegan movement. And if you know anything about me, you know how little tolerance I have for people pushing BS on me, vegan or not. It was sad seeing some vegan MLM reps with hundreds or even thousands of followers trying to victimize them, using every trick in the book to lure them in.
This was completely unacceptable. A movement dedicated to ethical-living getting infiltrated by charlatans, and almost no one was pushing back. All these con-artists had to do was say they were “vegan” and their products were “cruelty-free”, and many vegans saw them as friends or their “business” as legit. This is exactly what I meant when I said before that MLM is very misunderstood. Read my post from last year, “Veganism and multi-level marketing” for a more detailed look at this problem.
Besides pushing back, warning others and blocking the annoying MLM pushers on social media who were friends of friends, I started doing a lot of research again on MLM. This time, compared to 15 years ago, there was a lot more info on many of these scams, and a nascent anti-MLM movement was starting to take shape. The Dark Ages were finally over!
Ethan Vanderbuilt’s site was and still is one of the most important anti-MLM/scam-busting sites, and we in the anti-MLM movement owe a lot to his pioneering work. I frequently used his site to learn about the myriad MLM companies I was encountering, and still do.
Just when I thought my MLM education was complete, thanks to Amway, Primerica, then Ethan, I discovered the saga of Elle Beau, a former Younique rep. Before reading Elle’s story, I knew the mechanics of how MLM worked, but I didn’t understand the psychological manipulation of MLM that well. This was a real eye-opener for me, and many other people. The same big, fake smiles in Elle’s story and so many other stories were the same big fake smiles I remember from the Primerica bozos.
I started to realize that MLM wasn’t just a scam, it’s a cult. In fact, when a person joins an MLM, they’re joining a toxic sub-culture of deception, greed, and pseudoscience. And of course extreme tackiness. Pretty much all MLMs use the same psychological manipulation techniques which includes attraction marketing, “love-bombing”, and mind-set coaching, which usually means doing all you can to think positive and distancing yourself from people who are “negative”(this is why there’s something of a symbiotic relationship between the MLM world and the self-help industry).
Shortly after this the anti-MLM coalition site was founded, which now has a central place in the growing anti-MLM movement. Unlike many earlier anti-MLM sites and blogs, the anti-MLM coalition is proactive, collaborative, and is not narrowly focused on just one MLM.
Thanks to the anti-MLM coalition, its never been easier to find out about the latest(or even some of the older) MLM scams that seek to separate people from their money. A very bright light is being shined on every nook and cranny of this corrupt industry and they don’t like it. Even journalists have taken notice of the push-back against MLM.
I’ve come a long way from that seedy Primerica presentation. My education may never be complete, but the anti-MLM coalition and Elle Beau have been invaluable for enlightening me and countless others about this scourge of social media. While we may not drive this entire industry out of business, it’s good to know we are making a difference by educating others before they fall into the financial black hole that is MLM.
It’s the new and improved veganism taking social media by storm. It’s no longer just about animals, or about health, it’s about riches beyond your wildest dreams. All you have to do is join the right team and watch the money start flowing like Niagara Falls into your bank account. And it only takes a tiny sign-up fee to get started! Or at least that’s what the “vegan” wealth gurus of social media want you to believe.
So a blog post about veganism and multi-level marketing(MLM) aka network marketing? What’s going on here? The two seem worlds apart but if you’re a vegan and you’ve been on social media lately you’ve likely encountered someone claiming to be a vegan pushing some product or an “amazing” MLM “business opportunity” that they can’t stop talking about. This used to be a rare occurrence for me, but much to my annoyance I have been experiencing a lot more of it over the past year; this is what inspired me to write this post. For those of you who are unfamiliar with MLM, it’s a business strategy that’s all about endlessly bothering everyone you know to either join the scheme or buy from you so they can bother everyone they know to join the scheme, ad infinitum.
It’s for good reason that MLMs are often considered pyramid schemes with better lawyers. Research shows that almost no one except those at the top of the pyramid make any money. These schemes often target the most desperate and vulnerable people with promises of riches, with representatives encouraged by up-lines to use a “fake it till you make it” approach, complete with fancy cars and lavish vacations to lure people in. Many people are so badly burned by these scams that they end up filing for bankruptcy. Besides this, they may end up feeling like failures because they believe they either didn’t do it right or they realize they’ve fallen for a scam and are too embarrassed to admit it. As if this wasn’t bad enough, MLM reps often become increasingly alienated from friends and family when they can no longer tolerate the non-stop scam promotion.
It’s disturbing witnessing people who claim to be vegan engaging in this sort of unethical, predatory behavior. This can damage our movement in myriad ways. Besides inflicting financial harm on individual vegans, it also hurts the credibility of the movement and has the potential to drive people out of it. And the infiltration of MLM into the vegan movement is not just an online phenomenon, since MLM companies will often set up shop at vegan fests around the world. Our movement in general and our fests in particular need better quality control, lest the word “vegan” become utterly meaningless or a synonym for pseudo-science and chicanery(rampant pseudo-science in the vegan movement is something I’ve addressed before).
Vegans involved in animal activism and education know how difficult it can be to raise money to fund our efforts. Credibility is everything when it comes to activism and charity. People want to know where their money is going and how much of an impact it is making. It should go without saying that for activist groups to look like they have any kind of connection with a scam is a huge credibility killer(many MLMs will donate to charities to improve their reputation). Fortunately, this isn’t a big problem for most activist groups, at least not yet, but those of us concerned about the credibility of the vegan movement should be extra vigilant when it comes to MLMs trying to infiltrate it.
MLMs and other charlatans through their actions dilute the meaning of veganism, sometimes to the point that it’s only about healthy living, or for MLM-bots, healthy living + financial independence. Animal rights are pushed aside, or if they are considered at all, the “cruelty-free” label is similarly diluted. Some MLM cosmetics companies will even falsely claim their products are “cruelty-free” when they’re not: Presenters – You Need To Stop Telling Customers That Younique is Cruelty-Free, Now.
False health claims promising perfect health or increased energy are the typical siren songs of many MLM-bots, both vegan and non-vegan. Many vegans, fed up with mainstream medicine, are drawn to the MLM-bots and their “natural” cures. If they are struggling with their new vegan lifestyle, they may seek help from an MLM-bot out of desperation, instead of going to a qualified health professional. “Failure to thrive” is a lot more common among vegans than many vegan advocates care to admit, and is probably the main reason there are many ex-vegans out there. I believe a lot of this “failure to thrive” related attrition is due to the bad advice I see floating around on social media like thick smog around a large industrial city, which MLM-bots are big contributors to. Fortunately, critical thinking can help blow away some of this dense smog of misinformation.
This very toxic nexus of quackery, greed, and deception is radioactive to social networks. The damage it could do to the vegan community is incalculable. Just imagine you’re a non-vegan and you see this kind of thing. Especially if the non-vegan knows anything about science. Vegans are often scorned enough as it is by mainstream society, but add MLM to the mix and it looks positively nauseating. And I’ve barely touched upon the cult-like nature of many MLMs and the extremely tacky “look at all the money I’m making” videos and social media posts MLM-bots often make.
It’s time we do something about this infiltration before it thoroughly poisons our movement. Don’t buy MLM products, report MLM-bots on social media, alert charities if it looks like they are associated with an MLM or other scam, and get involved with the scam-buster and growing anti-MLM movement. Besides this, complain to vegan fest organizers if you notice MLM company representatives hawking their products at the event. Remember, for many attendees this may be their first time being exposed to veganism on a large scale. If they have a negative opinion of MLM as most people do, this may make them less likely to want to go vegan.
Just because someone says they are “vegan” and uses the #vegan hash-tag doesn’t mean they really are vegan or they are doing it for the right reasons. Fake friends are worse than obvious enemies. Don’t be misled into thinking that if so-called vegans are involved with an MLM company, it must be one of the “good” MLMs. We need to declare loud and clear that get-rich-quick schemes and supplement scams have no place in our community. As our movement continues to grow we need better quality control to ensure we’re all on the same page about what veganism really stands for. The credibility and potential of our movement is at stake and by extension the lives of millions of animals. Standing for ethics and good science shouldn’t be the exception, but should be the very foundation of our movement.
Have you had a negative experience with an MLM or a vegan MLM-bot in particular, or are you just concerned about the infiltration of MLM into the vegan movement? We would love to hear from you in the comments!
Social media plays an increasingly important role in many people’s lives around the world. It’s not just a great way to stay connected with people you already know, it’s also a terrific way to make new connections with people who share your interests. For some people in isolated areas or with rare hobbies, it is the only way to connect with others.
Unfortunately, there are many people who use social media as an opportunity to abuse or scam others.
I admit it was a little difficult deciding how many troublesome types I wanted to list; I settled on 3 since these 3 broad categories include a lot of sub-types. These 3 groups are by no means mutually exclusive, so you may have the misfortune of running into that rare specimen who is all 3. In no particular order, here they are:
The Multi-level marketer
Practically everyone is familiar with the multi-level marketer(MLM) AKA network marketer, and their spiel about financial independence, being on a permanent vacation, and making money from home, among other things. What makes them so annoying is that this is all they ever talk about and they are always looking to recruit you, so you can recruit everyone you know, so they can recruit everyone they know, and so on. And of course you make money from everyone you recruit as well as everyone they recruit. Sounds like a pyramid scheme, right? That’s because it is!
Almost everything the network marketer tells you is a lie. Don’t believe anything they say in their promotional videos or postings about how they have money coming out of their ears, their eyes and their, never mind. Studies show that over 90% of the people who get recruited by these pyramid schemes lose money.
What really makes network marketers a pain on social media is their nasty habit of infiltrating a wide variety of groups, clubs and chats for the sole purpose of trying to recruit others. All too often, and depending on how successful their infiltration is, they can have a poisonous effect on the group, resulting in division and conflict.
Besides this, MLMbots that deal in supplements frequently make dubious and at times dangerous health claims for their products. Here’s an example of an MLMbot pushing some juice product that according to them has miraculous healing powers:
What to do about them: I always block any multi-level marketer who follows me. If someone I follow becomes a multi-level marketer, I quickly unfollow and block.
People who are fed up with MLM spreading like wildfire and burning their friends and family on social media are increasingly taking a stand against it. The extreme sleaziness, dishonesty and cult-like nature of MLM pushers has inspired a growing and vibrant anti-MLM movement on the Internet.
As part of its tireless anti-MLM campaign, Timeless Vie has recently launched an MLM-free logo for businesses and groups to use to declare themselves MLM-free. This means a zero tolerance policy when it comes to MLM in their group or business. Try pushing MLM as a member of their group and you get the boot.
Besides Timeless Vie, there’s Ethan Vanderbuilt, another crusader against scams in general and MLM in particular. Be sure to follow him on social media and subscribe to his newsletter. Other anti-MLM sites to check out include MLM Syndrome, which is devoted to exploring MLM psychological conditioning, and also Lazy Man and Money, a consumer advocacy site which also frequently exposes MLM. Also check out The Not Quite Fairy-Tales of Elle Beau blog, for insights from an ex-MLM-bot turned MLM critic.
Understand that trying to convince an MLMbot that they are involved in a scam is pointless. Believe me, I’ve tried.
Educate yourself and spread the word!
It’s difficult to overstate how big of a problem cyber-bullying is. It is a plague on social media to the extent that some people who have been victims of bullying have canceled their social media accounts. We’ve all either been on the receiving end of it or know someone who has. Cyber-bullying can take many forms: insults, threatening messages, defamatory smears or even attempts at ruining a person’s reputation. The 2 biggest motivations for bullying are the bully simply gets their kicks from putting people down, and the other is to get someone they disagree with to shut up.
Many bullies think their insulting remarks are the height of comedy. Some may even claim to be “comedians”. Sadly, there are online forums where this vile behavior is encouraged. All-too-common misogynistic bullies revel in making insulting remarks about a woman’s intelligence or looks. Some women-haters even go as far as to make constant rape or death threats against their intended targets. It’s a similar situation with racist bullies and bullies that target religious minorities and people with special needs.
In the political and media arena, it’s not uncommon for bullying tactics to be used against political opponents. If an activist, politician, or political operative has a large enough social media following, it’s relatively easy to inspire their followers to harass an opponent to silence them. If the harassment is persistent enough, this tactic can unfortunately be very effective. Even well-respected scientists have been cowed into silence by this ploy.
When called out for their behavior, it can be nauseating watching a serial harasser and their defenders claim their execrable actions are protected by the First Amendment. However, the First Amendment doesn’t give anyone carte blanche to hurt others or destroy reputations. Whether or not the bullying you’re experiencing is a prosecutable offense can vary by country and jurisdiction. If you are being victimized, know your rights.
The best way to deal with bullies and harassers is to block and report. Do not interact with bullies, or attempt to get an apology, since this will only encourage them. Use anti-virus/malware software in case the bully turns to hacking, and be extra careful with passwords. Call the police about stalking, death threats or rape threats, consult lawyers about defamation.
It’s hardly a startling revelation that a very large number of people, probably a majority, tell white lies about themselves online and off. Most of the time this is probably harmless, but at least a few people take lying about themselves to such an incredible level of deceit that their entire online persona and reputation is built on nothing but lies. This, my friends, is the creature known as the Faker.
There is a significant amount of overlap between the multi-level marketer and the Faker. Just about all the multi-level marketers you encounter online are essentially Fakers, pretending they’re making a ton of money, pretending the products they are pushing are unique, top-of-the-line products, and perhaps most importantly, pretending to be your friend.
But not all fakers online are promoting pyramid schemes; indeed, some aren’t even interested in money, so this deserved it’s own category.
There’s a bewildering number of sub-categories of Fakers crawling around social media these days, it would be difficult to do justice to this subject. So I decided to narrow it down to two sub-types, due to the number encounters I’ve had with them over the years. These two sub-types are fake athletes and disease fakers.
For obvious reasons, the fake athletes I am most familiar with are fake runners. Every now and then while reading a running site or on social media, a story pops up about a runner who has been exposed as a fake, or someone a lot of people are suspicious about.
What these fake runners who fake their way to marathon or ultra-running glory all seem to have in common is this extreme desire to become famous. They are so desperate to turn their name into a valuable brand they will invent stories out of whole cloth about incredible distances they’ve run day after day, while providing scant evidence for their athletic feats. It’s no surprise that they will often buy followers on social media to make themselves look a lot more famous than they really are.
Astonishingly, some of these con-artists often manage to not just attract a cult following, they also become sponsored, and will sometimes run for a charity. Skeptics who ask questions are routinely demonized by the Faker and his rabid followers.
A little detective work and the fake runner is exposed; like a pin pricking a big balloon, he is quickly deflated. All but a tiny number of his followers abandon him and the sponsors run as far away from him as possible. Instead of fame, all the fake runner has achieved is a permanently damaged reputation before fading away into oblivion.
Of all the things a person can do to get attention, faking disease is arguably the lowest. Keep in mind that not all disease fakers are in it for the money, some just want the attention.
Disease fakers have a method of infiltrating groups either related to the disease they are pretending to have or something entirely different. They will tell one lie after another in their game of emotional manipulation to make you pity them. Unless these people made big news and attracted a lot of donations, it can be difficult to expose their con. If the more skeptically-minded start asking questions, they may start to claim they are very close to death.
If you suspect anyone of faking a disease, be on the look out for any inconsistencies. If one catastrophic event happens one right after the other, be very suspicious. If they have trouble answering simple questions, they are very likely a faker. Just ignore and block them. It’s not a good idea to try to publicly expose them unless they are asking for money.
These fakers poison social media by making everyone who has dealt with them a lot more cynical and apprehensive. Add bullies and the multi-level marketing zombies to the mix, and social media looks like a very depressing place where you can’t trust anyone. However, by being very selective of who you follow, and knowing how to effectively deal with negative or dishonest people on social media, it can still be a valuable resource.
Have you dealt with these types of people before? What type of people do you consider to be the most troublesome on social media, and how do you deal with them?