The target of the threat was Stephanie Yoder who writes a travel blog called Twenty-Something Travel. She was approached by an independent distributor for WorldVentures and wrote an article giving her opinion of it: WorldVentures: This is NOT the Way to Travel the World. It’s a great article (she can write for Lazy Man and Money any day) and gives her opinion based on disclosed facts, which in my non-professional, non-expert research, is protected free speech.
In fact, if she makes an error in the article, it is in FAVOR of WorldVentures, writing, “[WorldVentures] is NOT a pyramid scheme because the company sells actual products (vacations), which is enough to keep them on the correct side of the law.” It’s a common misconception, but pyramid schemes can and do involve products. As the WSJ covered, Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing got shut down by the FTC after allegedly defrauding people out of hundreds of millions of dollars over 10 years, and it sold real products and billed itself as an MLM. I’m not saying that WorldVentures is a pyramid scheme, but one can’t say that it is NOT one based on selling products. I’d have to look into more, but on first glance, it appears to be a pyramid scheme to me.
In fairness, Ms. Yoder disclosed that she didn’t even realize such companies still existed, so I can forgive that minor point especially because she nailed so many more including going through the income disclosure to find that the average person makes $325 before expenses and only 0.1% of people earn above the poverty line. She captures all the other ridiculous costs of doing business ($30 a month for a mailing system, monthly training at $99-$500) citing many sources.
My favorite part of the article is this line: “You are not going to get rich off of WorldVentures, but if you sign up WorldVentures is going to continue to get quite rich off of you.” It reminds me of this line from Harper’s Magazine about Mary Kay: “They couldn’t have it all because Mary Kay’s business model (like that of any multilevel-marketing enterprise) is designed primarily to profit from, rather than enrich, its workforce.”
She even captures the brainwashed distributors for the company parroting the company’s message.
Popehat covers the threat in very good detail. It’s a great read to understand exactly how WorldVenture’s lawyers are attempting to bully rather than rectify a legitimate complaint. However, when I read the threat (PDF), I found something I didn’t see them mention. The threat goes on at length about how she has to preserve everything (emails, etc.) for an upcoming lawsuit and then instructs her to remove all postings regarding WorldVentures. The contradiction makes it impossible for her to comply even if she wanted to. (And she shouldn’t because it is complete bovine excrement.)
In my experience what makes you a target for these lawsuits is simply writing a good article that is deemed valuable by Google. Several of the threats specifically mentioned my ranking in Google. It’s their form of reputation management. Rather than listen to critics and adjust their business accordingly to gain trust of the community, they instead try to whitewash any view that they don’t like. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if WorldVentures sends their lawyers my way after I write this. Imagine a world where you get sued for leaving a well-justifed bad review on Amazon. Imagine every movie critic getting sued for giving and honest bad review. That’s the world of critics live in when it comes to MLMs.
Someday, I like to think we’ll have a system in place that properly punishes such intimidation tactics. I view it as white-collar bullying, plain and simple. There’s some protection via anti-SLAPP laws, but it doesn’t go far enough. It seems to me that the punishment should be proportional to the company’s resources (their financial situation). This may make them think twice about sending out the lawyers to intimidate people with frivolous legal threats.