To older viewers, perhaps not accustomed to seeing themselves so clearly as numbers on other people’s spreadsheets, the strategy of marriage philanthropy so closely followed by audience growth might seem, well, icky. But Donaldson’s younger fans have mostly grown up on YouTube; Some, like Jeremiah Howard, have been watching his videos since they were teenagers. They are well-acquainted with the platform’s business and revenue structures, not only because a lot of the content on YouTube deals with these topics, but also because many of them are trying amateur YouTubers themselves. (When I asked Howard what he was going to do with the $50,000 check Donaldson gave him, he told me he was thinking of using it to start FLBOYRHINO, his family’s YouTube channel. ) For people in Howard’s position, near the internet the vast new engine of wealth and commerce but able to participate only on the fringes, Mr. Beast plays his part with both a sense of purpose and offers a channel for redistribution , as Howard learned, could not be otherwise. To them, he looks simple, not morally compromised.
In May, a few months after “1,000 Blind People See for the First Time”, Donaldson released a new video titled “1,000 Deaf People Hear for the First Time”. If you’ve seen “1,000 Blind People,” you can imagine its follow-up and video thumbnails without ever needing to see it. You can also imagine the attendant brawl: the tussle between enthusiastic Mr. Beast fans and irate critics, for whom the video is superfluous, shallow, wiry, monstrous.
I admit I agree with some of those critics, at least to the extent that I think it would be nice if a person with Donaldson’s platform and resources (and an obvious desire to help people) were able to solve structural problems. But take a closer look at the American health care system and the everyday injustice it does to people with disabilities. But I can also see how such criticism misunderstands what the Mr.Beast Channel is and how it works. From here on, Donaldson can really just keep spinning his flywheel after he gets it going. Any deviation can jeopardize the perpetual motion of his growth machine. (Imagine being 12 years old: Would you like to see an explainer on the private-equity roll-up of primary-care practices?)
Watching his videos, I’m sometimes struck by the thought that I’m glad Donaldson’s genius for YouTube traffic was originally achieved by a decent and ethical person, not the twitch reactionaries the site attracts and instead of malice. But Donaldson’s study of YouTube success may have also shown him that decency, ethics and generosity, properly calibrated, can be extremely successful attributes in a YouTuber, while resentment and offense are what you get from the platform’s current rules. can only take you so far. Donaldson can use YouTube to his advantage, at least as much as any one person can, but it also means that the limits of his project are, in essence, the limits of YouTube itself.
Perhaps that’s fine for Donaldson, who seems compelled not by a heady desire for fame or fortune on the one hand, nor by a purely charitable impulse on the other, but by the very adolescent compulsions that shape her videos: How far is it to go? How big can this thing be? how many zeros?
Max Reed is a journalist and screenwriter whose work has appeared in New York Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, and Bookforum. His newsletter and guide to the future is “Reed Max”.