For an older audience who may not be used to thinking of themselves as numbers on someone else’s spreadsheet, the strategy of wedding charity being so closely tied to audience growth seems disgusting. But most of Donaldson’s young fans grew up on YouTube; some, like Jeremiah Howard, have been watching his videos since they were preteens. They’re intimately familiar with the platform’s business and revenue structure, both because there’s so much content on YouTube about these topics, and because many of them are amateur YouTubers themselves. (When I asked Howard what he planned to do with the $50,000 check Donaldson sent him, he told me he was considering using it to start his family’s YouTube channel, FLBOYRHINO.) MrBeast is a huge new engine of wealth and business, but only Engaging at the fringes, MrBeast both gave their characters a sense of purpose and provided an outlet for reassignment that, as Howard learned, might not have otherwise happened. To them, he didn’t look morally compromising, but rather creative.
In May, a few months after “1,000 Blind People Seeed for the First Time,” Donaldson released a new video called “1,000 Deaf People Heared for the First Time.” If you’ve seen “1,000 Blind People,” you don’t need to watch it to imagine its follow-up and video thumbnails. You can also imagine the controversy that ensued: a spat between rabid MrBeast fans and nauseated critics, for whom the video was glib, superficial, disgusting, diabolical.
I admit I agree with some of these critics, at least in my opinion if someone with Donaldson’s platform and resources (and a clear desire to help people) could look more closely at the US healthcare system and the daily injustices of people with disabilities . But I can also see how this criticism misunderstands what the MrBeast channel is and how it works. After activating the flywheel, Donaldson could only keep it spinning. Any deviation could threaten the perpetual motion of his growth machine. (Imagine being 12: would you like to see an explainer of private equity roundups on primary care practices?)
When watching his videos, I sometimes think that I’m glad Donaldson’s talent for YouTube traffic was acquired by a basically decent and moral man, rather than the neurotic reactionaries and malcontents that the site seems to attract . But Donaldson’s research on YouTube’s success may also have shown him that decency, morality and generosity, if properly calibrated, can be traits of an extremely successful YouTuber, whereas under the platform’s current rules, resentment and deviant behavior can only get you so far. this step. Donaldson can use YouTube to his advantage, at least as much as anyone, but it also means that the limitations of his project are essentially the limitations of YouTube itself.
Perhaps that’s fine with Donaldson, who seems to be driven not by a narcissistic desire for fame and fortune on the one hand, or by a purely philanthropic impulse on the other, but by the same adolescent urges that shape his videos: how far is it go? How big can this thing be? How many zeros?
Max Read is a journalist and screenwriter whose work has appeared in New York Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, and Bookforum. His newsletter and future guide is “Read Max”.