WorldVentures threaten travel blogger, demand censorship
If one Googles the term “WorldVentures” today, above is typical of the results returned.
In first position is WorldVenture’s own website, second is another corporate website run by WorldVentures’ Marketing dept and third is a review by “Twenty-something Travel”.
Owned by Stephanie Yoder (right), she claims she wrote the review after she attended ‘a coworking event with a group called DC Night Owls‘.
Last Monday Michael and I went to a coworking event with a group called DC Night Owls.
It was our first time, and we felt kind of like the new kids in school, so when a friendly looking guy started chatting with us about our businesses, we were psyched.
As we talked about living and working around the world he got more and more excited. We’re on exactly the same page, he told us. He just had to tell us about his business!
He settled down beside us and flipped open his Samsung tablet. Thinking we were going to hear about his start-up or website or whatever, we leaned in. He started in on a slideshow featuring generic travel photos under headings like BEACHES, NIGHTLIFE, ADVENTURE.
Well whatever he’s doing, it sounds pretty cliché, I thought to myself. He kept going telling us about this online travel club called WorldVentures, where users can buy discounted travel packages for super cheap if they just pay a $199 fee + $54.95 a month (what a deal!). Then he told us the real money was in becoming an associate and recruiting others to join the program.
It wasn’t until he showed us the pay structure, which looked exactly like a pyramid, that I realized what was going on. It looked like this guy was actually trying to recruit us into a pyramid scheme!
“I’m going to stop you right now,” Mike said. The guy looked up from his endless slideshow where he was explaining all the free trips and cars you can earn, just by working for yourself! “We’re never going to be interested in this.”
“I thought you guys said you were entrepreneurs,” the guy mumbled before shuffling off dejectedly. Mike and I looked at each other in disbelief. Did that really just happen?
I didn’t know people even still DID these things. I associate these sort of companies (like Amway) with some bygone era.
Clearly they do (though) since this young (probably late twenty-something) dude was trolling coworking meetups for sign ups. So of course I started digging.
According to inhouse statistics, Twenty-something Travel currently lists the review, titled “WorldVentures: This is NOT the Way to Travel the World”, as the most visited article on the blog.
Ditto the comments, so much so that Yoder stopped responding to comments late last year, and roughly two weeks later disabled them altogether:
September 27th, 2013: Since publishing two months ago this blog post has become one of my most commented on posts, with passionate arguments from both pro and anti-WorldVenture perspectives.
I welcome your insights, however, due to the high volume and limited hours in the day, I am not going to be responding to any more comments on this post. I will continue to moderate and delete abusive comments but I will not be engaging. Thank you!
October 10th, 2013: After reading through a slew of comments from people who clearly didn’t read this article, and are mainly interested in promoting their own agenda and arguing with each other, I’ve made the decision to close the comments on this post.
I stand behind what I’ve written, but I’m a professional, and it’s not a good use of my time to monitor and deal with these comments.
I’m a self-employed travel entrepreneur who lives and travels all over the world. My post on Worldventures is just a tiny fraction of what this website is about.
Contrary to some of the accusations below I make no money directly off this article and have no personal vendetta against WV . My intentions are solely to provide a critique of widely available information.
Personally, although it can take up a considerable amount of my time, I find the time to moderate the comment discussion here at BehindMLM. But then BehindMLM is an MLM blog, I’m not running a travel blog.
This blog was created by me, Stephanie Yoder, a DC native who has been traveling pretty much non-stop since I graduated from college in 2007. Since the first post in July 2009, this website has grown to be one of the top independent travel blogs on the internet.
And that brings us to an important point. In her review, Yoder, presumably with little to no MLM experience, approached her review of WorldVentures purely from a travel orientated perspective:
On it’s most shallow surface a program like WorldVentures sounds incredibly appealing. Trapped in a job you hate? Longing to see the world? Join us and become your own boss! Work from anywhere! Earn fabulous rewards like cars and vacations!
“Make a living while living,” is the catchphrase. And who wouldn’t want that? In fact, maybe readers of travel blogs are particularly susceptible to such a line.
Isn’t that was a lot of websites promise? Isn’t that the idea behind the 4 hour work week? Isn’t that basically what I claim to do, more or less (possibly why the coworking dude thought I seemed like a perfect target)?
Hidden only slightly below the glossy promises is the fact that WorldVentures is at heart a multi-level marketing (MLM) network. My initial impression was slightly off: it 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.
To become a sales rep you pay a $99.95 sign-up fee plus 10.99 a month. You then go to work recruiting others to sign up below you. Honestly the pay out scheme is so complicated I started tuning out.
I’d naturally disagree with that bit in bold, as selling access to discounts is not actually selling an “actual product”. WV don’t sell vacations themselves, they sell access to discounts on them (the vacations themselves are supplied by third-parties).
That aside, Yoder’s review cites WorldVentures own income disclosure documentation, comments from former and current WorldVentures affiliates and Michael Sander’s “The Obtainer” as sources.
Someone is making a heck of a lot of money out of WorldVentures, but it probably won’t be you.
Nobody likes to hear this, but anyone trying to lure you in with the promise of fast easy money is pulling a fast one on you. Particularly if you have to lay out money at the beginning to get involved.
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.
There’s no magical way to travel around the world and get rich while doing it. Trust me, I would know.
One other point Yoder comments on is the evident shilling of WorldVentures affiliates,
What I actually found most disturbing when looking into the company is the almost zombie-like devotion it cultivates among salespeople. If you look at the comments on any of the above linked articles you will see dozens and dozens of people staunchly defending the company.
These comments often spout back the company lines word for word.
Odd perhaps for a travel blogger, but anyone familiar with the MLM industry will acknowledge this is par for the course.
Here at BehindMLM I usually just nuke any comment that comes off as a paidvertisement or recruiting pitch (usually an affiliate link tied to the username is a giveaway). Such comments, often disguised as attempts at genuine forays into the discussion are nothing more than spam.
In any event, getting back to the Google results at the top of this article, WorldVentures have now taken objection to Yoder’s review.
Presumably after attempts to bury it under an avalanche of shill articles and “WorldVentures Marketing LLC” owned websites failed, the company’s lawyers have recently issued Yoder a cease and desist.
Sent on July 2nd and picked up by PopeHat (link to the cease and desist is in the article), “business attorney” Shawn E. Tuma (right) of Britton Tuma writes
On your website Twenty-Something Travel you have a post titled “WorldVentures: This is NOT the Way to Travel the World”.
In the Post you have engaged and are continuing to engage in the following conduct:
- publishing in graphical form, false, misleading, defamatory and disparaging statements about WorldVentures;
- misappropriating, misusing and disparaging WorldVentures’ intellectual property in violation of state and federal law; and
- engaging in unfair competition and deceptive trade practices.
What statements Tuma (“it’s notta toohmuh!”) considers to be “false, misleading, defamatory and disparaging” are not clarified. Nor is the WorldVentures’ IP the company claims is being misappropriated, misused and disparaged “in violation of state and federal law”.
Ditto an explanation on how a travel blog writing about an MLM business opportunity has engaged in “unfair competition and deceptive trade practices”.
A travel-related MLM business opportunity and travel blog in competition with each other? Uh, rightio.
Your conduct violates well established precedent in state and federal tort and intellectual property law and provides WorldVentures with numerous legal claims against you.
WorldVentures hereby demands that you
(1) immediately cease and desist from publishing any further statements or information about WorldVentures in any form, and
(2) immediately remove from the Internet all website pages, postings, or other information in any form that you have made regarding WorldVentures and ensure those statements are no longer publicly accessible.
The deadline for providing me with written notification of your agreement to fully comply with this demand is 5:00 p.m. CST on Friday, July 11, 2014. Your written notification must be sent to me by email or facsimile.
If you fail to comply with this demand, we will move forward with pursuing all appropriate legal remedies available to ensure that your illegal activities are stopped and that the damage caused by your illegal activities is remedied.
This includes taking aggressive legal actions against you and any other persons or entities that may have conspired with you by seeking injunctive relief, recovery of damages, punitive damages, and recovery of all costs and fees associated with this matter.
I strongly urge you to heed this demand.
“Illegal activities”, wooooooh! Them’s some fightin words right there…
As it stands, Tuma’s deadline has come and gone and Yoder’s Twenty-something Travel review remains up.
PopeHat, who bill themselves as “a group complaint about law, liberty, and leisure”, carried the story on July the 9th, asking for assistance with pro-bono representation for Yoder.
It’s time for the Popehat Signal — the call for pro bono assistance for a blogger threatened with frivolous and censorious litigation.
This time the victim in need of help is Stephanie Yoder of www.twenty-somethingtravel.com. She needs your help to face a thoroughly bogus and repugnant threat by multi-level marketing scheme “WorldVentures.”
Will WorldVentures consider commentary on their own income disclosure statement, published by the company itself, worthy of further legal action should Yoder continue to refuse their censorship demands?
I doubt it. But as always, stay tuned…
Footnote: Our thanks to BehindMLM reader K. Chang for bringing this story to my attention.
Let the Streisand effect begin!
Previous Popehat signals have defended other people in need to help against Internet bullying.
One guy who posts real information to combat misinformation about AIDS was slammed with a bogus lawsuit by “AIDS Innocence Project” who alleged basically the same things: misuse of their name and alleged misrepresentation doing them harm. Popehat Signal rallied lawyers who got the lawsuit dismissed from Federal court.
I ran across her blog a while back. Its refreshing to hear her honesty in the review on WV. No spin, just truth.
When I heard of Steph’s plight, I offered to post her entire article on our website under our Founder’s/Guest Commentaries link. It has only been a few days since I made my offer, but have not heard back from her yet, or sure she will respond.
I just wanted her to know we were not afraid to post her article in full, and if she wanted it to stand we would make sure it did.
Hopefully she has received pro-bono legal representation and she won’t need to have us post her article. Besides, the attorney is only doing what his client hired him to do.
If it works, great, if it gets challenged, another story. Hopefully she told him to pound sand.
I really appreciate Stephanie Yoder standing up and helping others avoid the WorldVentures scam. I hope she can continue to stand strong.
Everybody who has a blog needs to add a link to her blog ANYWAY with an article describing her plight. This sort SEO you can’t buy! Let’s push her to #1 organically!
Digital Media Law Project (DMLP) has some general information about how to handle legal threats. I found it a couple of years ago when I was checking some general legal advices.
That blog is specifically about legal aspects of blogging and publishing. It’s slightly difficult to navigate if you’re not familiar with how it has been organized, e.g. if you’re only trying to get an overview.
Something from the second link:
Most of the information is very “basic”, e.g. how to identify which TYPE of legal threat (C&D letter, court order, subpoena).
I don’t believe that’s the right thing to do. The WorldVentures article was mostly about her own experience from something she was NOT very interested in. Her real interests are about travel, i.e. if she want to get attention for something it should be about travel rather than about WV or legal threats.
WRONG TYPE OF AUDIENCE
I had a quick look at some of the comments. Nearly 80% of the comments I read were about “typical MLM comments” (people defending WV, people attacking WV, people defending MLM in general, people attacking MLM in general, etc.).
Another factor is that she stopped responding to comments after a couple of months, before she finally closed the thread for more comments a few weeks later. She’s clearly not very interested. 🙂
SHORT TERM VS LONG TERM INTERESTS
What she CAN be interested in, short term, is how to handle legal threats. The PopeHat signal have probably generated some results for that.
She doesn’t have any long term interests in becoming “the number one WorldVentures critic” or anything like that. She doesn’t have any long term interests in becoming a “Freedom of Speech” fighter either (I’m pretty sure she will feel more comfortable with writing travel related articles, like she already does, rather than fronting a fight against censorship).
It will be more fair to let her decide for herself what she’s interested in. “Everybody who has a blog” may completely miss the target.
RELEVANCE RATHER THAN BLINDLY OFFER LINKS
Her article was relevant here. It offered a different perspective than simply looking at the business opportunity, i.e. it offered “that’s NOT the way to travel the World” (if anyone believed anything like that). She has interpreted it quite correctly, WorldVentures is about selling dreams rather than about travelling the World.
The C&D letter was relevant too. This website have similar experiences with vague C&D letters.
“We saw it as relevant, so we could use it” should normally be better than blindly linking to the article as some type of “emotional support”. Most people prefer to be useful, i.e. it may be more fair to look for usefulness than to look for how to support her.
After about a few weeks reading comments, she must’ve thought “What in the heck just happened??!! I just shared my opinion.”
I compared it to a “Sugarmums / Mannatech” thread here from 2010 or 2011, with 300 posts about nutritional supplements. Sometimes you can get too much attention from the wrong type of audience, e.g. when they have very specialized interests you don’t share yourself.
She interpreted the situation correctly. The article primarily attracted “typical MLM comments” from a different type of audience than the ones normally visiting her blog. I don’t believe it’s wise to offer MORE of that type of attention. 🙂
So what will happen here? Is this more a case of a scare tactic, or is a case possible here? Also what happened to freedom of speech, does that not apply on the internet/your blogs.
I was under the assumption you can blog about whatever you want. Talking and discussing about whatever.
I mean if you are not blatenly bashing a company/program…what can the company questioning it honestly do?
It’s “scare tactics” and “fishing trip” (fishing for a type of REACTION to the letter, ANY type of reaction).
We have received 3 C&D letters here, but I only remember 2 of them.
* Bid For My Meds (about pyramid scheme definitions).
* Gerry Nehra/TelexFree (about Ponzi scheme definitions).
From my POV, it’s worth spending SOME time just to get some experience (if people feel comfortable with that type of experience). Other than that, it’s normally better to avoid legal battles.
The best strategy against vague C&D letters should normally be to ask the attorney to clarify what the alleged violations are about, ask him to be specific about it rather than vague. It’s better to assume “he might have a valid point” than to assume the opposite.
Blogs will generally have a fair protection, as long as they’re not primarily set up to bash a single company or something similar.
The primary purpose of Stephanie Yoder’s blog is to share travel experiences and “related stories”. The story about World Ventures was simply a “related story”, based on her own experiences and research.
It attracted the wrong type of audience, but she allowed 250 comments to be posted in 3 months before she finally decided to close the thread. She didn’t censor anything before the last 2 weeks, when people started to post recruitment links.
She has a solid defense. Her blog is about something of general public interest, and the offending story was simply a “normal story” in the context it was presented. MLM and WorldVentures isn’t her favorite topic, so it was covered from her personal viewpoint. She allowed people to “balance” the comments, i.e. she didn’t solely allow supporting comments. She simply didn’t ACT like a person trying to bash the company.
Solid defense or not, she should use it as an experience, e.g. to gather SOME knowledge about that type of legal threats, how to avoid them and how to respond to them (without using a lawyer).
This blog is much more offending. 🙂 But that also means that most attorneys will SEE it differently, e.g. they will be able to detect some experience. They will not see it as an “easy target”. C&D letters have typically been initiated by other people than the attorneys.
We have a similar type of defense = public interest, balanced audience, not specifically set up to bash a single company. In addition, we have a some “communication purposes” uses of “pyramid” and “Ponzi” (those expressions have been commonly used here right from the start, to make things easier to understand).
If anyone complains about the use of “pyramid scheme”, we can show them that the expression has been commonly used and has been accepted for years. You can actually “normalize” the use of certain expressions, “make them acceptable”. That’s a better strategy than to avoid the use of offending terms and expressions.
Libel / defamation is normally about that, about people setting up a website to bash a single company, with no other identifiable purposes than that. It will prove that the INTENTION is to bash a single company. That’s much more difficult to prove if you have a more general blog.
High offensive factor = poor defense strategy (and that won’t impress anyone of importance). People should be able to balance the material, it’s not a wise idea to focus solely on an offensive strategy.
You must be accepted by “normal people” if you want to be effective (normal as in “not too extreme viewpoints”, among the audience as a whole).
The offended party can potentially get a restraining order against the offender. People should be able to AVOID situations like that, but they should probably be able to HANDLE some of the situations too (you can’t avoid all types of trouble either).
The other type of offense is about publishing personal information / business secrets. People should use some common sense when they publish something on the internet, e.g. they should know something about what people generally can accept and what they definitely won’t accept.
Stephanie Yoder actually has a solid defense system in place. I pointed out some of the factors in post #13.
“Freedom of Speech” doesn’t cover all types of behavior. It’s a “fundamental right” rather than an individual one, so it has specific and limited uses.
Freedom of Speech:
Using Freedom of Speech as a defense argument will only be effective if you don’t use it as a primary argument.
You must first show that your own behavior is “acceptable” as the society as a whole can see it, and that your opponent is trying to censor something that primarily is of individual interest (e.g. the opponent want only a specific type of opinions to show up in search results).
Stephanie Yoder has a solid defense, based on the factors I have looked at (e.g. the primary function of her blog, the article itself, the comments, potential reasons for why WV feel offended).
I have looked at the realities rather than law theories, e.g. how to defend the offending behavior.
LEGAL THREATS CAN HAVE SOME VALUE
Legal threats can offer experience in how to handle legal threats. That can clearly have some “long term value” for a publisher or a blogger.
They can help people to identify things more clearly, e.g. it will give them a look at their own defense strategies (if they have some). That’s necessary if you want to improve something, you must first try to identify the system you already have in place before you can improve it.
Digital Media Law Project (dmlp.org, post #7) had some detailed info about different legal threats.
* Don’t panic
* Don’t immediately comply
* Don’t write a fiery response
The BrittonTuma C&D letter tried to “push” her in many directions, e.g.:
* “If you have a legal counsel, contact him immediately”
* “Ask your counsel to contact me”
* “Preserve evidence”
* “Comply with the demand”
If he had a solid case, the letter would clearly have specified the offending material. The letter is probably designed to cause emotional REACTIONS of some type, make people FEEL something about it and make them RESPOND to it like a serious threat = trying to push the opponent to make some bad decisions.
I called it a “fishing expedition”, e.g. “How will the opponent respond to it? Will the opponent respond emotionally or rationally?”. People might have identifiable “response patterns”, and the initial response may tell the attorney something about which strategy to use.
A lengthy reply will probably give him more fish on his fishing expedition. A lengthy defense letter which primarily revolves around “Freedom of expression” and similar ideas may potentially reveal some lack of legal understanding.
I would have preferred a very short reply in this case rather than a lengthy one. I would have asked him to specify WHICH parts of the material he feel violates something, and WHY he feel it that way. I wouldn’t have used ANY defensive arguments in an initial reply.
“If he’s on a fishing expedition, don’t give him any fish (information he can use). If he’s trying to push you in an emotional direction, respond with rationality rather than emotions. If he’s sending ‘bumptious’ letters, respond with short factual ones”.
That strategy will show him that he can’t easily manipulate you emotionally by using “legal language” and emotional factors, i.e. he won’t try the same strategy the next time.
Some of his most lengthy sections can be used as a part of the same “short and factual” strategy, e.g. the “preservation of evidence” can be met a short statement “It is already preserved”, or “If you feel there’s a need for some specific actions to preserve it, then you can probably preserve it yourself”.
The parts that needs to be clarified are the 3 points:
* false, misleading statements
* intellectual property
* unfair competition
He has also made vague legal claims. He will need to specify the details so you can be able to identify them:
“Your conduct violates well established precedent in state and federal tort and intellectual property law”.
If he want people to pay attention to statements like that, then he will need to be more specific about those “well established precedent”.
The best response to that particular C&D letter should be a short and factual reply, asking him to provide more details about vague parts. “The shorter the better” should be the rule.
Don’t simply respond emotionally. The letter actively tried to push emotional buttons, and he will most likely continue to use the same type of strategy if he manages to get an emotional response.
People were generally not very impressed by the C&D letter, e.g. the people making comments in the PopeHat thread. But the letter must have made sense to someone, or else he wouldn’t have sent it.
I looked at Britton Tuma’s “Who we are”, “What we do” and “Strategic Professional Relationships” pages. He’s just as vague there as he was in the C&D letter.
There’s a lot of “fill” and very little precise information, i.e. he tries to give the impression of something but he’s not able to express it clearly.
One example = “What we do” (the shortest example I found):
Most lawyers I have met will not describe themselves as “innovative” or use expressions like “cutting-edge emerging issues” (they’re “empty words”). He’s actually using “marketing language” (“marketing BS”) where I expected to find factual information.
(Continued from my previous post, about vagueness in business presentations).
I have checked two other lawfirms in the last few months, two Norwegian ones (lawfirm Elden DA, Lawfirm Grette DA). They clearly had a different style in how they presented their own businesses on the internet. None of them were vague about their own profession or specialities.
Business communication should primarily revolve around factual information and “substance”, “what people need to know to be able to make decisions about something”, assuming that the people looking at the information may be potential new clients looking for solutions to something (for a lawfirm that will normally be about potential clients looking for solutions to legal problems).
The only people who will be attracted to the Britton Tuma website will be people with relatively vague ideas (similar to his own). People looking for substance will not find what they’re looking for. I only found vague descriptions like e.g. “combined 50 years of experience” where the lawyers I’m familiar with would have been specific.
That may be a problem if you have received a C&D letter from a lawyer like that. His communication methods are not very professional, and he may be unable to detect if his own communication strategy has failed (e.g. he may continue to increase the pressure when more experienced people would have tried to back out of the situation).
If the main purpose for a strategy is to AVOID lawsuits, parts of your “defense weapons” must be clearly visible to the “wannabe opponents”, to the ones eager to sue you. You must help them to make rational decisions about avoiding risky lawsuits with you as an opponent. If they’re eager to sue someone they should try to find easier targets than yourself.
That strategy may not work on the Britton Tuma lawfirm. I don’t think they put much efforts into analysing potential defense strategies, i.e. they may continue with a lawsuit where other lawyers would have backed out.
The first red flag here is the exaggerated C&D letter. That could have been a rational strategy (scaring people may give results, and it can also have some “fishing expedition” purposes).
The second red flag here is the general vagueness in the business presentation. It was a type of presentation people write when they want to motivate themselves, e.g. loaded with marketing BS.
That lawyer may simply not respond rationally. He’s more motivated by his own eagerness to impress himself than by rational ideas.
Hi Folks, I’m one of the people that started DC Nightowls meetup 4 years ago. I was doing a search for our group today and saw this and I remember this being a facebook conversation a while back.
DC Nightowls meetup booted the person pitching WorldVentures shortly after the FB conversation.
We don’t approve of anyone targeting our group to sell anything unless we know who they are, they are a sponsor, and they fit with our purpose. Most of the time, we go without sponsorship.
The group is entirely run by our 10 organizers with their side time and passion to encourage creative and productive peer energy. Thx!
Here’s the original blog post.
She described it like this.
So it was simply a description of where and when — some of the context for her story. Her blog is generally about Travel, Destinations, Food and Drinks, etc. — not about “opportunities”.
World Ventures isn’t about travel, and that was her conclusion too. It’s about membership in an income opportunity where people can earn a profit if they recruit other income opportunity seekers. It’s 10% about travel and 90% about recruitment.