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With her blue kitchen in the background, YouTuber Madison Harnish, who runs the channel cruel world happy mind, talks about how multi-level marketing (MLM) companies target stay-at-home moms by promising them an ideal lifestyle. MLM members, Harnish says, create YouTube videos about how they can balance being an involved mom with making money to support their families to help attract new members. “This persona is for people who are dealing with very specific issues that have to do with child care,” Harnish says in the videowhich has been viewed more than 175,000 times.
MLMs are direct sales companies where consumers sell products, which could also be considered pyramid schemes. Pyramid schemes are illegal in the United States, but companies get away with it, or try to get away with it, but claim that people are only selling products. Pyramid schemes got their name because the people at the top, who make the most money, recruit people below them, and the people below them recruit others. The people at the top also make money when the people they have recruited get other people to join the plan. In MLMs, the people near the top make the money, and about 99 percent of the people in MLMs lose money according to a Consumer Awareness Institute 2011 Report. This is what makes MLM tactics, like telling people they can be their own boss and make money while taking care of their children, so predatory.
Social media including YouTube has been a tool to help people, mainly women, to promote their MLM products and show their life aspirations. So it comes as no surprise that creators have used the same platforms to criticize MLMers and the fake lifestyle they are promoting. In recent years, more and more YouTubers have been making anti-multilevel marketing videos discussing the tactics of these unethical businesses, with some videos garnering hundreds of thousands, if not millions of views. Even if their intentions are not nefarious, anti-MLM YouTubers gain a following because they are sparking people’s interest in MLM and other scams. They claim that a world without MLM is an aspiration, just as MLMers claim that their lifestyle is also desirable. Anti-MLM content on YouTube operates a fine line of validation and helping people who have had negative interactions with the industry and is just another form of fraudulent entertainment as many of these videos describe how companies are set up to exploit to the people.
People who watch anti-MLM content on YouTube, TikTok, and other platforms often have some connection to MLMs, whether they’ve almost joined one or know people who do. Some want to research potential business ventures and are looking for companies, some may be considering leaving MLM, and others may find how MLM works interesting. And just like with MLM members, many of those who create anti-MLM content are women, who are also more likely to be recruited to join MLM. according to a AARP Foundation 2017 Report60 percent of people in MLM are women.
But the anti-MLM community is not without its critics. Some anti-MLM creators make YouTube videos and TikToks that make fun of people at the bottom or near the bottom of the MLM pyramids. That is just exploiting people who are already being exploited by an MLM company for entertainment, who don’t take advantage of people unlike those higher up the pyramid.
Anna Iovine, reporter for mashable and anti-MLM YouTube video viewer, noted that both pro-MLM YouTubers and anti-MLM YouTubers need each other to create content. Most of the anti-MLMs say they want MLM to end, but this effort isn’t just altruistic, as the biggest channels make money from these videos too. “I wonder, as more people see this anti-content, more people realize it’s a pyramid scheme, and maybe [MLMs] it will be banned, I wonder what will happen to the genre,” Iovine said of MLM YouTube content. “These people need each other. It’s kind of like a situation between Batman and the Joker.”
MLMs don’t just take advantage of people financially and socially; some MLMs also promote pseudoscience, which is incredibly dangerous. Sara Blair, an Ontario-based English teacher, first became interested in MLMs because of the language-based tactics they use to recruit members. After she was diagnosed with cancer, Blair did not buy the lie promoted by MLM that essential oils were an adequate treatment for her health condition, encouraging people with cancer to delay chemotherapy and radiation. There are no scientific studies showing that Essential oils can prevent or cure cancer..
“One person told me that essential oils would help me, but they didn’t have any [medical] credentials, and I no longer believed that,” Blair said. While dangerous, Blair said MLMs have “become a big joke in the cancer community” and they share memes to address the dark situation of people trying to take advantage of cancer patients.
Now, Blair shares anti-MLM YouTube videos and other content on her social media, hoping it will reach out to the people she’s connected to who are in MLM, as she recognizes how dangerous they can be. “I have lost friends, because I have published [about] that,” Blair said. “I really think she has a cult mentality.”
Anti-MLM content is pretty new compared to MLMs. For the past few decades, the members mainly sold their products to their neighbors and family members within their immediate communities. But social media has broadened the reach of MLM as a recruiting tool and for people to speak out against MLMs.
Antonella Fleitas, who lives in Argentina, was looking for virtual assistant opportunities when she found herself working for an MLM. “I thought it was a service company, and suddenly I was in a WhatsApp group with all the motivational messages,” said Fleitas, who decided to walk away from her after being greeted by MLM “hunbots”.
“Hunbots,” the people who approach prospective MLM members with, “Hey honey, I’ve got a new opportunity for you,” have almost become a caricature in the anti-MLM content space. Analyzing the actions of these hunbots, as many anti-MLM creators have pointed out, is tricky. Some hunbots may know that getting people under them is the way they will make money, while others may think they are actually giving someone else a chance.
Anti-MLM content has taught people like Fleitas to get rid of these scams before they get caught. “Everything is arranged to appear [like] something that is not [and there are] all the training and how they teach people to lie,” Fleitas said.
Anti-MLM content is often created by former MLM people, so they have experience with its predatory nature firsthand, like YouTuber Josie, who runs the YouTuber’s channel. not the good girland Kendall Rae, a true crime YouTuber, who talks about how was absorbed by Mary Kay Cosmetics and lost money every time you cover a case related to an MLM.
But other ex-MLM people may be hesitant to share their experiences, for fear of being judged for being drawn to MLM in the first place.
“They are often ashamed of how they behaved when they were in MLM, the money they lost, and the fact that they were cheated on,” said psychotherapist Hannah Martin, who hosts the podcast “get rich slow.”
Anti-MLM content opposes the PR of some MLMs that have been around for decades. One problem is that some companies that have turned into MLMs seem trustworthy. Avon, for example, was founded in the 19th century and used to be a direct selling company. Because people trusted their makeup, when they have become most MLM style businesses in the last 20 yearsIt’s been harder to shoot down certain tactics of this company.
In the mid to late 20th century, parties were hosted by stay-at-home moms and others to sell products from direct selling companies, such as Tupperware parties. It was a way for women to create communities, and now, MLMs are breaking up friendship groups because of their cult practices. Melinda Wedde, a Pittsburgh mother and yoga teacher originally from Indiana, grew up attending “parties” where mothers were recruited to become salespeople and buy products. In fact, Wedde’s first makeup kit was from Mary Kay Cosmetics, and her grandmother was an Avon lady. In recent decades, many of these direct selling companies have become more explicitly MLM.
“A lot of it is regional, and that’s part of the predatory practice,” Wedde said. What an article of vox He notes, MLMs have traditionally been most popular in the Midwest and South, but have spread throughout the United States. Wedde shares anti-MLM content because he doesn’t “want people to lose money” or “fall in too deep.”
If MLMs were banned internationally tomorrow, people would continue to watch videos from companies like Avon and lularoe, tracing its rise and fall. But, as some anti-MLM content points out, we’re going to need better policies in the US to support the MLMs they take advantage of. Therefore, they are not placed in a place where they feel they have to pursue risky career options that may hurt them financially for possible positive compensation.
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