A YouTuber cured 1,000 blind people for a video. But is it performative altruism?
- MrBeast is famous for his charitable endeavours and recently paid for eye surgery for 1,000 people, on top of gifting them cars and money for university
- While many have praised his actions, they question the ethics behind filming his good acts to have content for his channel, calling it ‘dehumanising’
One thousand blind people’s lives were changed – thanks to the world’s biggest YouTuber: “MrBeast.”
The 24-year-old content creator, whose real name is Jimmy Donaldson, is known for his generous and charitable endeavours. He’s rebuilt homes for Kentucky tornado survivors and given US$20,000 to randomly selected people in need. This time, he paid for a simple, 10-minute eye surgery for 1,000 patients who could not afford it, giving some their vision back and helping others see clearly for the first time in years. On top of that, Donaldson also gifted various things to participants in the video, including a US$50,000 college fund check and a brand new Tesla.
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“Unfortunately nearly half the population with curable blindness doesn’t have access to this surgery, so I wanted to provide this to as many people as possible,” Donaldson says in the video.
The video has garnered over 70 million views as of Wednesday and has undeniably raised the profile of the medical procedure he paid for, as well as the challenges in access to healthcare for those in need. But the response has been mixed. While some have praised the act of kindness, others have expressed scepticism about his intentions: Is it really an act of altruism if it’s uploaded for clout?
What happened in MrBeast’s new video?
The 8-minute long video shows several patients undergoing cataract surgeries, having the bandages removed from their eyes and seeing clearly again in a series of emotional clips. One patient named Charlie, whose vision had deteriorated to the point where it made it hard to work as a cashier, peeled off the bandages and read an eye chart with a message: “You just won US$10,000.”
Jeremiah, a teenager who was blind in one eye since age 4, saw everything in the room – including a US$50,000 check for college.
And a father, who said he just wanted to see his son again, says his post-op vision still was a little blurry – but only because of the tears in his eyes.
How MrBeast is dividing viewers
The video has sparked a conversation about the ethics behind good deeds. Some accused the creator of exploiting participants in the video by funding their surgeries for personal gain and content, rather than genuine altruism.
“He does exploit people for personal financial gain,” one user tweeted Tuesday. “The result is good, because some people are getting what they need, but he is not a good person because of it.”
“While it was an amazing piece of altruism on your behalf: why make a video about it?” another user tweeted. “Why not just do good with no reward other than self satisfaction, knowing you’re making the world a better place? Maybe some people see it as attention seeking.”
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Others pointed out that the commercialisation of these projects is what allows MrBeast to continue his inspiring acts of kindness. Donaldson responded to the backlash himself on Monday.
“Twitter – Rich people should help others with their money
Me – OK, I’ll use my money to help people and I promise to give away all my money before I die. Every single penny.
Twitter – MrBeast bad,” he tweeted.
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Performative altruism: Is it really bad if it’s making a difference?
In the modern hunt for likes and views, kindness content on social media is often questioned. Think back to those viral videos of influencers donating wads of cash to homeless people: It’s a seemingly selfless gesture that tugs at your heartstrings, until you find out the sole purpose is typically to going viral.
“One potential problem with content like this is that it can be dehumanising to those who are being helped,” says psychologist Andrea Bonior, who hosts the “Baggage Check: Mental Health Talk and Advice” podcast. When being filmed by an influential figure, there may be a power imbalance in which participants’ emotional experiences are “commercialised,” Bonior says.
“We run the risk of turning real people into symbols.”
However, what differentiates kindness from exploitation is motive. When these videos espouse compassion, education and inclusion – as exhibited in MrBeast’s video – the results include making a change and inspiring others to do the same.
“There’s all kinds of evidence that people perform acts of kindness for reasons that aren’t totally pure, and that doesn’t automatically make it a bad thing,” Bonior says. Studies on this topic support her claim: Research has shown that altruism is often motivated by social rewards, rather than being purely about compassion.
“There are multiple layers of people’s motivations, but we also have to ask about the effects,” Bonior says. “How are people talking about the video? Will it inspire people to do good things? Will it spur awareness about blindness?”