The same social networks that multilevel-marketing distributors are called upon to exploit—their friends, their family, their followers, their “mutuals”—are now the social networks through which women are pushing out a completely different message. (Though men participate in multilevel marketing as well, they do so in much smaller numbers.) On Reddit, Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok, a huge community has coalesced around the anti-MLM sentiment, bringing together disenchanted former salespeople, curious independent researchers, and thousands of women who are just tired of getting Facebook messages about selling essential oils.
#AntiMLM is still diffuse and disorganized, but its rise poses an existential threat to multilevel-marketing companies that rely on the constant recruitment of new participants. And its newfound popularity is already presenting challenges for the community, which critiques capitalism on commercial platforms: If criticizing multilevel marketing is a good way to get views and followers and personal attention, how long will it be before that becomes the reason to criticize multilevel marketing?
On the Reddit forum r/antiMLM, members mock the industry all day long, referring to distributors as “hunbots” who lead off every conversation with a faux-warm “Hey, hun.” There is plenty of anger and caustic humor, but the community is tightly checked by moderators who insist that all screenshots have names and identifying information obscured. Self-promotion of any kind is entirely forbidden, as is commentary on the quality of MLM products, good or bad. Shaming victims is out of bounds, and nobody is painted as a dupe: “If the post does not highlight a core problem with the MLM business model, it does not belong here,” the rules warn.
The moderators restrict discussions that take away from the mission of the subreddit—to map out and dissect MLMs—and encourage conversation about the system over anecdotes about low-level bad actors. The first major gathering place for people who shared the anti-MLM sentiment, the forum was started in 2011, but had only 2,000 members before suddenly taking off in August 2017. Now it has more than 680,000 members and serves as the hub for a growing, informed discontent. Rainbow, the TikTok creator, refers to the Reddit community as the “OG anti-MLMers,” and calls it “the heart of the movement,” responsible for most of the significant work.
On Reddit, users hit the same points over and over, often explaining them from the top for newcomers who want a second opinion on what looks like a great opportunity: As a multilevel-marketing company gets bigger, the opportunities for the people who came in most recently get smaller and smaller, and many end up going into debt by buying their own products to keep their sales ranking. Others will recruit and recruit on social media, desperate to fill in their “downline” with new sellers. The industry is known for releasing very little information about the money its independent distributors make or lose, but the information that does come out is incredibly bleak.