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!