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From the Ice Bucket Challenge to MrBeast—does “stunt philanthropy” make the world a better place?

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YouTuber Mr. Beast leads the Tampa Bay Buccaneers out of the tunnel prior to an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023 in Tampa, Fla.

The business of philanthropy and fundraising has undoubtedly evolved alongside the growth of social media. The power influencers and content creators wield online can lead to pretty incredible outcomes for charitable causes. Look no further than what the “ice bucket” challenge achieved for ALS research, for example.  

The marriage of online entertainment and fundraising has a name: It’s called “stunt philanthropy.” The phenomenon arguably began with the ice bucket challenge in 2014, and is now standard operating procedure for many influencers—most notably a YouTuber who goes by the moniker of “MrBeast.”

MrBeast, or James Donaldson as he is known in real life, is the poster child of stunt philanthropy. With more than 215 million YouTube subscribers, he is one of the platform’s largest content creators—and a self-described philanthropist. His videos often involve elaborate and costly stunts and challenges designed, in some instances, to attract attention to various charitable causes.

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