YouTuber MrBeast usually expects his viral videos to generate thousands or millions of views after he posts them,
However, this week one of his latest videos has brought on something different: controversy.
MrBeast has gone viral again for a health-related stunt – paying for eye surgeries for low-income patients who had a form of curable blindness. As part of the package, MrBeast also gifted a child a $50,000 college fund check and someone else a Tesla.
In the video, titled 1,000 Blind People See For The First Time, MrBeast pays for the eye procedure for people who suffered from blindness for most of their lives. He then films their reactions once they’ve recovered, with some crying of happiness as they look around the doctor’s room.
In some cases, MrBeast hands over an extra $10,000 in cash to the person. For context, this is consistent with much of MrBeast’s content.
MrBeast, also known as Jimmy Donaldson, has 130 million subscribers on YouTube and is one of the highest-paid content creators on the platform, raking in $54 million in 2021.
He rose to fame over his viral videos — from counting to 100,000 on a nearly day-long video to starting competitions for cash prizes. He’s also gone down the charity path in recent years, like rebuilding homes in Kentucky for tornado victims, or gifting $20,000 to people who may be in need of basic necessities.
The reactions are heartwarming, to be sure. But the most recent video led to a polarized response and triggered a far deeper discussion about the state of the U.S. healthcare system as a whole.
Both MrBeast and his audience have questioned why it’s so difficult for a low-income person to access a relatively simple, 10 minute procedure to be able to see.
“You watch the video and think, ‘Aww, how cute and how nice.’ I watch the video and I’m filled with rage,” Hasan said. “That we shut off access to a 10-minute procedure because we paywalled it and decided that some people simply can’t get it.”
Still, much of the emotional reactions to the video were also directed at MrBeast himself. Some people argued that MrBeast’s act was nothing but a publicity stunt, a performative charity act that in the end was self-serving for “clout.” He alluded to the backlash on Twitter.
People have argued that MrBeast’s charitable acts are all to simply gain more views, followers and viral videos — which in turn increase his profitability on YouTube. Meanwhile, others asked why he needed to create a video about the act to show to his audience and wondered why he didn’t instead humbly avoid attention for his good deed.
However, some medical marketers see this as a learning opportunity and the start of a deeper conversation that the industry should be having.
“I can understand the reasonable criticism around this stuff — around dehumanizing people, reducing someone with a disability to their disability, which is highly problematic and using someone’s story of struggle for personal gain,” she said. “That’s a very valid general critique.”
Litt also saw the value of the video in promoting a positive message – and raising awareness about how health disparities actually play out for real people.
“Anybody putting good stuff out there — especially a white man with privilege, sharing his privilege, that’s a great thing to be putting on the internet as opposed to the alternatives,” she explained. “It’s valid to ask, ‘Why is this guy doing this?’ but the more valid criticism is, ‘Why does this have to happen in the first place?’ Why is basic healthcare something you have to win, as a prize, in America?’”
It’s critical for healthcare marketers and brands, Litt said, to look hard at the impact of their campaigns – whether those are campaigns steeped in ‘inspirational’ patient stories, charitable in some way or altruistic.
“It’s important for anybody who wants to take this altruistic perspective to think about how they’re creating substantive, institutional change that will increase access and change disparities in the long run,” Litt explained, “Not do it [prize] style – because that’s not how we should have healthcare in America.”
Egbavwe Pela, SVP and group media lead at CMI Media Group, agreed.
“I get and see how some of it is gimmicky, but any step forward is positive,” Pela said. “At the end of the day, the lives of 1,000 people just changed for the better forever. There’s always the hope that because of the attention it’s getting, it’s promoting others to do similar things – and any step in that direction that sparks conversations, is at the end of the day, a net positive.”