The Viral Philanthropy of MrBeast

Viral acts of kindness have a treacherous history online.

From staged events to straight up fraud -- things are never what they seem. So when headlines about MrBeast increased in frequency, our interest around the studio was piqued.

Hailed as “YouTube’s Viral Philanthropist,” Jimmy Donaldson, AKA MrBeast, and his hundreds of videos have a dynamic range. From his earliest playing minecraft, to extreme and arduous challenges involving microwaves or orbeez, Donaldson has left his career path on public for others to follow.

But we’re here to get to the nitty-gritty of his philanthropy. Is MrBeast really improving the quality of life in the world? Does Donaldson’s charitable nature dig deep, or is he just another flavor of prankster veiled by good intent?

Luckily, MrBeast distilled his biography on Twitter rather succinctly:

“I started at 13 years old with no money, a horrible laptop, and no microphone. Everyday for 8 years, I’ve obsessed and reinvested everything I’ve made. I’m grateful to wake up happy and excited everyday and all I want in life is to make the best content possible <3”

With countless videos detailing the potential profit as a YouTuber, one can see the obsession building inside MrBeast. Donaldson began to put the pieces together, developing the foundation of a YouTube career. He invested more and more of his time into understanding the economics of the platform and began building content around sharing those discoveries. He even began speculating the net worth of popular YouTubers. This youthful interest came with a deeper understanding of the YouTube and the economics at play.

MrBeast had a breakthrough moment of international popularity when an article on his video, “Counting to 100,000 in One Video,” was syndicated. The entire experience took over 40 hours, which he condensed to 24 because of limitations within Premiere, Adobe video editing software.

MrBeast’s success came from his ability to capture the Schadenfreude of the event that news outlets thrive on. Counting to 100K is a simple concept with a painful execution, and the borderline torture made for excitingly clickable headlines for DailyMail, BusinessInsider, and more.

Actually dubbing him a prankster, Newshub spins the act for parental inspiration:

“[If your little ones are] at a loss for activities to keep them entertained these holidays, here's an idea - record themselves counting to 100,000.”

One successful aspect of this stunt is its repeatability. Most have the ability to count up to 100K - (and some are still trying to this day.) Counting to 100K is a simple enough concept to be repeated by anyone, but also physically taxing enough that others are are either discouraged from attempting it, or fail outright. This accessibility made it interesting to viewers, young and old alike.

What is strange, however, is that MrBeast wasn’t the first to do this stunt. Moldytoastermedia has a video from 2011 entitled “Jon Counts to 100,000,” though it is cut from several different takes.

Donaldson certainly won’t be the last to do it either. CJ SO COOL uploaded a recent attempt that quit at just 1,600.

Still, his simple, consistent setup, and desire to do it in one entire video set him apart from the rest of the counters out there. This was MrBeast’s first step into the international spotlight. The physical and mental toll 40 hours of recorded counting would take were short term, but the long-term effect became more and more apparent as MrBeast put out more videos.

For most, the “Count to 100K” video would have been the pinnacle, never to be surpassed — but Donaldson used this momentum to his advantage. He spent some time sacrificing pieces of himself and his sanity, all to satisfy the public's need for schadenfreude -- but he found a way to deflect the suffering in his content all together. Within the year, Donaldson began giving money away. First, to homeless people on the street, and tipping delivery drivers, and later to friends, family, and anyone he’d meet on camera.

With more views, comes more money -- and in Donaldson’s case that means more money to spend. Exploring a recent video entitled, “Tipping Waitresses In Gold Bars,” we find MrBeast tipping waitress in gold bars, Playstations 4’s, and laptops.

Opening with the message,

“Being a waitress is one of the hardest jobs in the world,”

Donaldson’s voiceover quickly explains what’s going to happen in the video. Conspicuously pulling the lavalier and tshirt to his mouth, MrBeast holds up a giant gold bar and lets the viewers know it’s worth $160K. Explaining that he can’t give this away yet, Donaldson pulls out a mini-bar (or nugget) of gold worth $7,000.

This is the first bait-and-switch of the video -- with the thumbnail and description at odds with the actual content of the video. The thumbnail depicts a waitress yawing in amazing at a stack of 21 gold bars (worth $160K each, mind you) as she pulls one off the top of the stack. This is the same waitress from later in the video, at a restaurant called “Sup Dogs.”

After ordering water, Donaldson takes one sip and states,

“AH! — Tastes like seven grand!”

He then holds up a napkin, to which his friend Chris reads,

“$7K IN GOLD — with a weird G.”

They anchor the note with the gold nugget and take off; every second recorded by a cameraman in a booth not too far away.

The waitress picks up the gold bar and asks the filmer if the gold is real or not, to which he replies:

“it is real.”

Dumbstruck, she gives them a husg and a thanks before they’re on their way to the next spot. This server, Deborah Jones, would later appear on the local news, promoting the event and proclaiming it gave her the ability to buy her late father a headstone.

At the next place, he again orders water. This time, he gifts a PS4 and laptop to a happy waitress, who says:

“Subscribe to MrBeast,”

as they leave for another restaurant. Ordering another water, the waitress brings out some free bread. Chris wants more bread, but Donaldson is ready to move on and gets the flatscreen primed for giving.

This segment is interesting because it gives me a reason to talk about why free bread was ever handed out in the first place: it’s thought to be good for business. Free bread is cheap. It keeps dinners occupied, granting the kitchen more time to prepare food. Free bread even justifies smaller portions, as no one leaves hungry.

From a user-experience standpoint -- free bread is a touchpoint used to alleviate stress for all participants. It satisfies the diner, reducing stress for both the server and the kitchen. Free bread is a concept designed to make dining better without inflating costs. No doubt, the first restaurant that offered free bread was popular — so popular that others followed suit. Eventually, every restaurant was expected to provide something for free for diners to munch on.

Contemporarily, it’s becoming more and more difficult to find establishments that offer free anything outside of global chains and the chips and salsa at Mexican restaurants. Indeed, this too would be because free bread is no longer good for business. Appetizers are often the most profitable items on the menu, and with food preparation advancements, it has become a lot easier and quicker to cook them. Bread is common fluff, and diners demand an extraordinary dining experience.

MrBeast has empathy for these servers, and he should, because he is one himself. From a macro viewpoint, Donaldson is a serving up giveaways and entertainment. But these actions are not the meal — they’re fluff. His content offer exactly what the average YouTuber craves: distraction from their day-to-day life with videos that capture moments of hope.

After finishing the bread, Donaldson gifts a Playstation 4® and the video cuts into MrBeast’s sponsored by promo for Honey™, a company that offers coupon codes but really, really promises not to sell your purchasing data.

One takeaway from every MrBeast™ ad is the investment in production. MrBeast™ is often praised for his ability to seamlessly integrate promotions into his content in undestrasting ways, and that’s because he works hard at it. This allows the video to progress without dissolving the immersive experience. With Donaldson presenting the promotion, he imbues it with the trusted perspective and humanistic connection he’s cultivated over the years. The extensive cuts make the segment stand out visually, while the goof gaffe giraffe tone keeps audiences engaged with the content, which, in this case, is an advertisement for Honey™. This extra effort is designed to recapture attention, and it works.

After the ad, they gift a chest full of 300 $1.00 coins to their next waitress, a true act of philanthropy. After handing out gold, which has to be converted into cash, electronics, which aren’t designed to be turned into cash, the Beast Boys hand out an aggressive amount of coins in a nice and tidy container. This is the problem inherent with the Beast-Mode of giving. Charitable acts are orchestrated to be as outlandish and absurd as possible.

With clickability as the end-game, philanthropy takes a back seat.

The next tip is a printer, laptop, and PS4, which stuns a girl.

“I wasn’t even supposed to work tonight,”

she exclaims with her hand over her mouth in excitement. This moment should be celebrated, right? It is fluff after all.

In actuality, it is representative of the working class struggle. The reason why a server would say this is either:

  1. They got this shift because someone called in, and they needed the money

  2. They had the day off but had to come in because someone called off.

Either way, work, and by extension money, guided her decisions. Paying bills is paramount to living. Maintaining an income stream and a positive employee/employer relationship is the goal. Dreaming to live is not quite the same as living the dream.

This video has honest intentions, but the subliminal messaging is problematic. It fortifies a cultural obsession with material wealth by commodifying the struggles of the working class for entertainment. It also presents the solution to those struggles as gold bars and flat screen televisions, reinforcing that materialistic obsession. Consumers want televisions, and this gives viewers the dopamine release they’d have if they bought one themselves. America is country built around the concept that freedom equals happiness. Somewhere along the line, the American dream was rewritten: FREE! = happiness. This type of content reinforces cultural obsession with material wealth -- which will ultimately lead to unhappiness.

Charities only offer temporary support. They aren’t meant to solve systematic problems, but rather exist to help those who are struggling through a difficult time. Charities are like painkillers, they take the pain away, but they are not a cure. Philanthropy is different from charity, in that it is a holistic philosophy aimed at improving the quality of life for the public good. It’s more than just giving money away, or even changing someone’s entire life -- philanthropy addresses what causes the problem in the first place.

The reality is, if MrBeast is a philanthropist, then so is Bob Barker for his time hosting the The Price is Right. Donaldsons giveaways function as charities, guided by the potential for entertainment rather than a moralistic philosophy. On a traditional television network guided by viewership, this is expected. For someone heralded as the top Philanthropist on a platform as free and universally accessible as YouTube, it’s disheartening.

Donaldsons channel has many flaws: Exploitation of the working class, apathetic spending habits, sexual objectification , heavy personal bias, an obsession with material possessions, and an abundance of material waste. There is hope. As in a previous video on Banksy -- MrBeast has power.

His videos have the power to inspire imitators.

MrBeast has exposed the possibilities of video-based around charitable actions and is the first step in philanthropic content creation on the platform. Still, what is a millionaire to do when his entire empire is built on trendsetting? Does he keep looking for the extreme, or does he find something sensible? What is the next step?

Donaldson understands the YouTube formula — he was bred by it — but there is something lacking in his method: ethics. If he truly wants to do good in this world, it’s going to require a different strategy. He has built a massive community over the years, and now, with a following of over 22 Million subscribers, he has power -- more than even he realizes. With that kind of visibility, his actions could inspire an entire generation to give what they can to help others. The next great challenge MrBeast will have to confront will require a different kind of fortitude than he’s accustomed to.

We’ve already seen this in Morgs. Morgs is infamous for ripping off MrBeast’s ideas -- so much so that there is successful content built around it. Lots of it. One of the best, though, builds on that idea -- a petition to get MrBeast to plant trees. This meme taps into the true potential Donaldson has a creator and role-model. Like in any market, successful entertainment breeds imitation. It doesn’t take much to This is not something Donaldson can control, but it is something he could guide.

He success grants him influential power over the hearts and minds of his audience to do acts that will make the world a better place. They can also influence him to use his money in a way that has a greater impact on the world and changes it for the better. Now it will have double the effect through this imitation This influence as a trend-defining youtuber gives MrBeast power.

In philanthropy, imitation is more than flattery;

it’s the entire point.

So did MrBeast ever plant 20 Million trees? No — but the school children in India did — 220 Million in a single day. That’s some real fluff for you this edition, thanks for reading.

diedfamous is a project that’s focused on giving back with art. Our contributing artist donate their time to make free memorial portraits for families that have unexpectedly lost a loved one. Make sure to comment if you’ve ever tipped a waitress a TV, because that means you are MrBeast and there’s a few things that we could do with some mini gold bars around here.

If you’re not MrBeast but still would like to support our work — head on over to Patreon and become a patron for exclusive goof gaffe giraffes!