some multilevel marketing drama
what happens when a community refuses to follow the influential creators who lead it
By Jeff Brister
No matter how advanced technology becomes, how sophisticated the platforms are, or how much more technically proficient users become, drama remains the same. Modern social media has added more dynamism to it and more ways for people to express themselves, but this only makes us think it’s become more advanced. It still relies on the same tools and tricks as the old flame wars of yore: private messages becoming public, passive-aggressive pieces of content naming-but-not-naming people, public individuals making strident claims, someone else presenting receipts that directly contradict those claims, someone doubling down after stepping in shit, and things boiling over for a small group of people.
Much of the time, these situations attract a wider-than-usual audience that follows along intently for a short time, and then quickly loses interest. At that point, the only people left paying attention are the folks directly involved, and community members invested in the drama.
One of my favorite of these large-scale dramas involved two content creators tied to the broader community opposed to multilevel marketing, Kimbyrleigha and Emily. The Anti-MLM community is mostly centered around a subreddit, r/antiMLM, dedicated to exposing the predatory business practices of these companies—the ones you hear about through Facebook messages from your old high school bullies that have never thought about you until they found this wonderful opportunity that they’d love to tell you about. (These businesses are also known as “pyramid schemes.”)
r/antiMLM was created in 2011, and until some time in 2017, it had about 2,000 members. Since then, the subreddit’s membership has skyrocketed to around 700,000 members. It’s filled with memes, discussions, and lots of people providing information about how bad MLMs are and why one should avoid getting swept up in them. There’s no shortage of people online trying to get rich quick, and other people telling them “Don’t do this.”
Anti-MLM interest spans platforms, with has a constellation of creators posting tons of material related to the topic. That includes YouTube, which has a rather active scene of people posting videos — reactions, Q&A’s, deep dives, personal stories, and so on. A lot of it is informative and interesting, and the top creators in the community do a lot of work to create a welcoming space. Recently, I’ve become interested in a case regarding two of these posters.
Kimbyrleigha is a veteran YouTuber, with over a decade on the platform. She’s got 229,000 subscribers, and several videos that cracked 100,000 views. She was successful, for a time. If I were to speculate, she appears to have made a cynical pivot into Anti-MLM videos for views. It’s an easy trend to get into — you react to videos of people making fools of themselves, you educate the public on predatory businesses they’re seeking information on (“is this legit?”), and you get to cultivate an engaged audience.
Emily Leah’s channel was focused on much the same things other Anti-MLM channels did: reaction videos to MLM reps saying dumb stuff, reviewing income disclosure statements to show how big a scam MLM’s are. She has a warm demeanor and until recently produced good stuff at a regular clip. Her second most popular video, an examination of Rachel Hollis and her empire, is a great video because of Emily’s openness about being someone who bought into Hollis’s nonsense, and how that did her a disservice. Viewership on Anti-MLM videos appear to have been reliably popular for her, but posts not related to the topic tended to perform poorly.
It’s clearly enormously difficult to pivot out creating Anti-MLM content, with no guarantee that one’s audience will follow. It’s like a musician attempting to switch genres. From what I’ve observed within the informal community, there is a real hunger for content that is strictly Anti-MLM related, and that audience doesn’t care for videos falling outside of that class. Some communities will follow a creator to any type of area of interest, but it’s rare for an Anti-MLM audience. (It can be done, and well. YouTuber Illuminaughtii has gradually shifted her focus from MLM companies to wider investigative content, covering corporate malfeasance, historical surveys of topics, and now natural disasters.)
The one thing that everyone seems to agree is a big no-no is criticizing your audience and then playing the victim when you get rightly called out on it. It’s safe to call this bad form.
I’ve tried as best I can to cobble together a timeline of the events that led up to a bunch of classic internet drama. The reason I say “try” is pretty simple: pretty much all of the content that Kimbyr and Emily created related to the situation has been deleted or made private. This makes anthropological work difficult: large chunks of the conversation just straight up don’t exist anymore or only in short clips. A lot of this information can be found in YouTuber Tiana Liss’s video on this incident.
The entire situation revolves around the shocking exits of Kimbyr and Emily’s exit from making Anti-MLM content. From what I can gather, the Anti-MLM community blew up with the one-two punch of videos from Kimbyr and Emily, both announcing that they were no longer Anti-MLM. The videos are no longer accessible, but they ran through the same talking points — “everybody is equally bad”, “I actually am a #girlboss”, “anti-MLM people are bullies”, and a personal favorite of mine: “Isn’t every job a pyramid scheme?”
Kimbyr said that her move into Anti-MLM videos had been purely for engagement and revenue. She defended the move by calling YouTube her “upline” — a term used in MLM’s to describe the people above you in the pyramid — and that it was the thing that dictated what content she needed to create.
Emily Leah’s departure video (the surviving clips, at least) hits on the same general points: that making anti-MLM content is too limiting, that the community is full of bullies, that the tactics MLM members use to sell product are pretty good, actually. The video ends with a plug for her podcast. She repeatedly mentioned Kimbyr’s good-bye video as part of the reason for making her own, and also talks about burnout and the toll the work of being a content creator is taking on her.
The gallery of her most recent videos really conveys a lot:
And then something surprising, and encouraging, happened. Or rather, didn’t happen. In all the years I’ve spent online, I’ve found that disputes between prominent community members tend to draw up ideological lines, with supporters picking a side, flaming each other until they get bored or one side decamps. 4Chan has its origins in the early days of Something Awful, for example. But in r/antiMLM, there was none of that. From what I could dig up through years and years of anti-MLM threads and videos, there wasn’t anything quite like this event: absolutely no one was buying what either woman was selling (pun intended). The subreddit members ignored them and moved on.
The anti-MLM community itself displayed a heartwarming level of solidarity. No one was coming out in support of Emily or Kimbyr. Instead, people were more concerned with the mission and the movement rather than the personalities within it. The subreddit was firmly against people who cynically jumped into, or out of, their world solely as a method of brand-building. In a content economy where cult of personality is almost everything, there was no cult to be found here.
As far as I can tell, the drama machine revved up in mid-October of 2020, rolled along for about two months (I think, there’s a lot of deleted videos in the intervening months so I can’t truly pinpoint when it died down), and then pretty much stopped because no one really cared.
Kimbyr kept going, trying to find a new niche for herself. It didn’t go well. All of the videos her Anti-MLM period have been deleted. After running through the usual stuff — unboxing videos, defending the honor of famous people, true crime (which came after a video criticizing the genre), and defending MLMs, she resorted to posting about Amazon Affiliate scams (now made private) and actually joined Monat, a controversial MLM company. As of this writing, she hasn’t posted a video related to multi-level marketing or get-rich-quick schemes since this past January.
The community kept humming along. Drama very quickly fell off the front page, and, aside from Kimbyr’s bizarre post about joining Monat, it was quiet.
Emily Leah’s departure is a pretty fascinating case of how someone reacts to people not caring, and wildly miscalculating their own importance. A quick rundown: she posted her “I’m no longer Anti-MLM” video on October 7, 2020 (it has since been made private), used it to promote her business podcast, stopped posting videos altogether, made her entire channel private, and went dormant until the end of February 2021. I imagine her channel’s revival was supposed to be a “The Bitch Is Back!” moment, but that is definitely not what happened.
A quick search of r/AntiMLM shows that no one talked about Emily after she left YouTube last fall. There were no prominent videos discussing her on YouTube, no posts in the subreddit about her.
So Emily resorted to posting cringe. In return videos, she wildly overestates her importance to her haters. On Youtube and Reddit, I’ve found nothing. After extensive searching. There’s absolutely no discussion of her in the months between her farewell video and her return.
I find myself transfixed by videos like the above, with all of its bizarre vibes. It’s the internet equivalent of kicking down the door to an empty auditorium and pretending that not only is there a crowd in there, they’re awash in rapt attention by your presence. The constant insistence of a dedicated community of haters that’s never been able to shut up about her and has done nothing but discuss her over the last four months feels… just sad. Part of this may be delusion, but a bigger part of it is just part of the fabric of the internet: the way the internet warps our sense of scale and makes some people who reach any level of prominence feel as if they occupy a significant amount of space in people’s minds. Posting on the internet requires a certain sense of unwarranted self-importance, but most people keep it at a reasonable level.
And when you view Emily’s videos through this prism, it all starts to make sense. The desperate insistence that she was “cancelled”, her repeated assertion that she’s been a topic of conversation for months even though she’s done fuck-all, and how much she hyped up her bombshell, a mythical “group chat” that put these events in motion.
A lot of this feels derived from the Right Wing Playbook. Cancellation? Check. An insistence that everyone else is the problem? Check. Unsubstantiated or outright false allegations? Check. A conspiracy to keep her down and prevent her from telling her truth? Check.
The AntiMLM subreddit clearly wasn’t interested. Emily hasn’t posted any new videos since mid-March.
This whole situation, to me, demonstrates, how the structure of internet drama has remained consistent over the years. The way events play out is largely the same, albeit with some modifications due to the evolution of platforms. There are videos now, and screenshots proliferate more than ever. Things happen at lightning speed now, over the course of days or a couple weeks.
But the contours of it remain consistent with past countless dramas. Messy public exits. Gossip on message boards. Meta-discussions about the drama itself and what it means. People cast out of the community trying and failing to refocus their content, and veering off in wild directions. Several relevant pieces of information getting deleted, leaving holes in the narrative.
At the center of it was a couple of people trying to stir up shit, getting exactly what they wanted, and then getting really Not Mad about how it didn’t go their way. The internet is filled with these sorts of stories, and most of them get rightly forgotten. This one will probably go the same way. But I think it’s important to try to record it, because at the very least this is an excellent example of the dangers of believing your own bullshit.
The only way to listen to Boom Boom Pow