MrBeast, the most popular YouTuber in the world with 20 million subscribers, shared a video on Nov. 4 in which he says he built 100 wells across the continent of Africa. It has drawn a mix of responses.
Some say that his video is a great example of generosity in the YouTube age and that he uses his platform to benefit those in need. Others see it as a ploy to get views — and ad revenue — and say that its “exploitative” nature negates his charitable acts.
MrBeast, whose real name is Jimmy Donaldson, tweeted after the video was released that he thought he might be “canceled” in response.
I already know I’m gonna get canceled because I uploaded a video helping people, and to be 100% clear, I don’t care. I’m always going to use my channel to help people and try to inspire my audience to do the same 😅❤️
— MrBeast (@MrBeast) November 4, 2023
“To be 100% clear, I don’t care,” he wrote. “I’m always going to use my channel to help people and try to inspire my audience to do the same.”
The video, which now has 68 million views, shows MrBeast working alongside crews across the continent as they build wells and give excited communities access to clean water. As they do, a large onscreen counter tallies how many wells have been built, as the video quickly cuts to place after place. He highlights the joy local residents experience as they no longer have to do their laundry in unsafe water or limit how much they drink in a day.
In the video, MrBeast says the new wells will provide clean drinking water for up to 500,000 people in Cameroon, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The associated fundraiser in support of local water aid has accumulated more than $350,000 in donations as of Nov. 8.
MrBeast has does this sort of high-impact charity regularly. The YouTuber, who is also consistently the highest-earning creator on the internet, has shared videos in which he says he helped 1,000 blind people see again, helped 1,000 deaf people hear for the first time and cleaned the world’s dirtiest beach. He often partners with existing charities and utilizes brand sponsors to make these videos.
He has a channel with close to 19 million subscribers dedicated to philanthropic acts — adopting orphanages, paying for hospitals to be built and helping paralyzed dogs run again. Even his main channel features enormous cash prizes for everyday people in exchange for outrageous acts, like winning a real-life Squid Game.
MrBeast is not the only YouTuber who documents his generosity. TikToker Jesús Morales (@Juixxe) built a following through videos of his donations to street vendors in need. Longtime vlogger David Dobrik pivoted from posting chaotic prank videos to giving away cash and Teslas to his fans, affecting them on a personal level. Even though Kai Cenat’s gaming equipment giveaway in New York City famously got out of hand, his intent was to make expensive hardware more accessible to young people.
Not everyone believes MrBeast’s brand of views-driven charity is entirely legit. Some call it “stunt philanthropy,” suggesting that what the content creators get out of it lessens its impact on the world. Is an act of charity performed for an audience of millions even charitable at all?
Theodore Lechterman, a philosophy professor and expert on the ethics of charity, told In the Know that all philanthropy could be considered “stunt philanthropy” unless it is performed anonymously. But there’s more to consider.
“[Some think that] focusing on the quality of the donor’s intentions distracts us from what really matters: How much overall good a donor produces,” he explained. “If MrBeast is able to maximize overall good through his unconventional tactics, the self-aggrandizement and objectification of his beneficiaries may be prices worth paying.”
He added that the consequences of philanthropy might not be all that matters, either. We have to consider how he treats his beneficiaries, and how his acts might undermine democracy.
“Unless MrBeast ties his philanthropic work to advocacy for political change, he may be letting governments (and societies) off the hook and perpetuating the problems he seeks to solve,” Lechterman said.
In the instance of MrBeast’s well-building project, Kenyan activists said he spotlighted how the Kenyan government has failed its constituents — something that could have an impact on future efforts. Saran Kaba Jones, founder and CEO of clean water charity FACE Africa, told CNN that it was “frustrating” to see MrBeast appear overnight and get tons of attention for a cause she’s worked on for 15 years.
She added that the true test of MrBeast’s philanthropy will be how sustainable it is years down the line.
Rebecca Reiner, a philanthropy professional and executive director of a basic needs charity the Sincere Foundation, said “stunt philanthropy” can be helpful when it comes to fundraising.
“Look at the Ice Bucket Challenge. It raised records amounts that actually did lead to [ALS] research that is helping to better understand the disease,” she said. “Even though many people who participated in the challenge failed to follow through with donations, it was so viral that it didn’t matter. Millions were still raised.”
Her concern was that after high-profile videos like MrBeast’s, the level of public interest will wane, leaving charities scrambling to keep up with a spike in funds and then scrambling to keep up with a lack of funds.
“When fundraising is done as ‘content creation,’ the organization misses the opportunity to start building the relationships that will sustain them over time,” she said. “Ultimately, what charities need is sustained interest and funding in order to continue to carry out their missions.”
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