This paper analyzes how multi-level marketing companies (MLMs), via direct selling through electronic commerce (e-commerce) and social media, enact and evade federal language policy to maximize profits. Here we describe the federal language policies that govern this type of e-commerce, and in particular, the language policies of the Federal Trade Commission, which dictate what can and cannot be communicated by MLM companies and their contractors. We then illustrate how these federal language policies are enacted, and at times subverted, for financial gain during the COVID-19 economic and health crisis which rendered many people vulnerable. We draw on the discourse analysis of public documents, MLM insider sources via the first author, and over 100,000 public Instagram posts published by MLM independent contractors collected with the third-party Instagram data extraction tool, Phantombuster. We find that MLM independent contractors, although varying widely with respect to their enactment of federal and corporate policy, frequently reference COVID-19 implicitly or explicitly, a practice prohibited by federal policy. We demonstrate that quantitative and qualitative discourse analysis of language policies and practices of MLM social media provides a productive lens for understanding both the communication challenges of and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. This approach reveals the variable ways in which language policies are taken up and discourses recontextualized with new meanings and for new purposes across social media platforms.
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© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V.
- Direct sales
- Social media