“I just like helping people,” MrBeast wrote in one of his most recent tweets.
The YouTube megastar, with 152 million subscribers, became the most followed individual creator on the platform by building up a reputation for performing acts of kindness, often involving a large cash prize.
MrBeast, whose real name is Jimmy Donaldson, began by donating thousands of dollars to small, unsuspecting Twitch streamers, documenting their elated responses to his generosity on camera. He has since given away millions of dollars to fans in his short challenge-style main-channel videos.
On his secondary channel, Beast Philanthropy, he’s launched dozens of humanitarian aid projects — including providing supplies to underserved schools and giving aid to Ukrainian refugees.
Altogether, these acts have won him a hugely positive response as fans said they set him apart from other wealthy celebrities.
But this could all be changing, as the YouTuber’s newest genre of content has been receiving increasing backlash, embroiling him in accusations of producing “inspiring porn” and exploiting people for online fame.
Donaldson’s most popular YouTube videos have previously been lighthearted challenge-style tournaments involving fans. His most popular upload of all time shows 456 contestants taking part in a real-life version of the Netflix series “Squid Game” to compete for $456,000.
In a tweet posted January 15, Donaldson said he was planning to release something that would be “nothing like” his older posts. The result was a video in which he said he would be “curing 1,000 people’s blindness.”
The video, posted on January 28, documented people meeting up with the YouTuber so he could pay for their sight-restoring cataract surgery, and they often demonstrated emotional reactions and thanked the YouTuber when the bandages were later removed from their eyes. Cash prizes were also involved, as Donaldson gave briefcases which he said contained $10,000 to a number of participants.
Donaldson had previously kept this charitable style of content confined to his philanthropy channel, where his videos receive under 30 million views each — a huge number by most YouTubers’ standards, but small for him. After uploading this post on his main YouTube channel, it received 139 million views, in line with the view counts for his typical challenge-style content.
Three months later, Donaldson posted a similar video on his main channel, paying for 1,000 people to get hearing aids, and also for some participants to have new experiences, including going to a Taylor Swift concert and attending a championship basketball game.
On his philanthropy channel, where the YouTuber had previously not posted any videos directly related to disabilities or health, he uploaded a similar video, paying for 2,000 people’s prosthetic limbs, one day after his hearing aid video went live.
While Donaldson’s cataract surgery video was highly popular among some viewers, who praised the YouTuber for his generosity, it also sparked a wave of backlash, as some people wrote that they thought we should not be turning to wealthy influencers to fix widespread societal problems like the cost of healthcare. Others accused Donaldson of paying for the surgeries as a way of gaining online clout and producing popular content.
Dr Jeffrey Levenson, the ophthalmologist who collaborated with Donaldson on the project, told Insider he thinks the YouTuber is “probably proud” of the controversy it stirred up, adding, “Controversy is a reflection of the world coming to face the question that we ought to take the moral initiative to solve this problem once and for all.”
Donaldson defended the video himself on Twitter, but it seems Levenson may have been right — he now appears to be leaning into this type of content, despite the controversy it causes.
The YouTuber’s subsequent video about buying 1,000 people hearing aids unsurprisingly also caused a stir on social media, as several people, including users who said they are deaf, accused him of producing “inspiration porn,” a term coined by disability activist Stella Young in a 2014 Ted Talk defined as the “objectifying [of] disabled people for the benefit of non-disabled people.”
Cryssie Jones, a Canada-based artist who is Deaf, according to her Twitter bio, pointed out in a now-viral tweet that hearing aids are “not a cure” and “do not automatically restore hearing,” saying that Donaldson’s video did not “depict the actual struggles” that many deaf people experience.
A number of users have come to Donaldson’s defense since the video went live — including Twitter’s CEO Elon Musk, who wrote, “people definitely shouldn’t be attacked for doing good” — but the YouTuber does not appear to have addressed the most recent controversy. The very next day, he uploaded his video titled “I Helped 2000 Amputees Walk Again.”
Backlash has also begun to spread into other aspects of his reputation. On May 11, after a New York Post report about Donaldson buying homes for his employees went viral, he responded to accusations that he might have had ulterior motives behind the purchases, writing, “Only I could get canceled for giving people a place to live with no strings attached,” on Twitter.
Donaldson’s insistence on extravagant giving got him his name and fame, but many viewers appear to believe that his newest format has gone a step too far, arguing that by focusing on people with disabilities, his altruism is tipping into exploitation and performativity.
For more stories like this, check out coverage from Insider’s Digital Culture team here.