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We know him as YouTube's 'MrBeast' but he's got something powerful to teach Americans

OpinionWe know him as YouTube's 'MrBeast' but he's got something powerful to teach Americans

The word civility is rarely used today. It brings to mind long ago times when humanity longed to be civilized, i.e., polite and cultured. Historically, it can also be used in reference to communities, government and civilization, yet that use seems archaic too. It is time to bring the word back into everyday use. MrBeast is just the one to do it. 

In 2023, 85% of respondents to the American Bar Association’s Survey of Civic Literacy believed “that society is less civil than 10 years ago.” Only 6% believed that “society has become more civil.”  

The No. 1 reason cited by respondents for the decline in civility was social media, followed closely by the media. In addition, 53% said they did not think people were “very informed about how government works” and 17% said people “were not informed at all.”  

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The unrest this spring gives us further confirmation that a majority of people are poorly informed (or prefer to be rationally ignorant) about what they are protesting and what our government represents. 

While social media — along with the media — is being blamed for promulgating half-truths, sowing discord and encouraging clickbait, there is one online presence which is an exception and whose online conduct should be examined and emulated. Known by most as MrBeast, Jimmy Donaldson is a self-made YouTube personality who encourages calm and reasoned discourse toward a consensus, instead of dividing society along fault zones. 

MrBeast is one of YouTube’s top earners, who recently celebrated over 250 million followers, all hooked on his elaborate stunts and contests. While MrBeast is not immune to controversy, the arc of his journey from nobody to Gen-Z legend provides many valuable civic lessons for society. 

Most of all, examining how Jimmy Donaldson handles himself online helps us understand that civility as a response to social pressures creates outcomes that bring people together rather than apart. 

Examples of his ability to simply deescalate conflict abound. When MrBeast launched Feastables, his own brand of chocolate bars, the ensuing frenzy and high demand meant that supply could not keep up. Store shelves became disturbed and unkempt.  

In response, MrBeast tweeted an unconventional request to his followers, “I need your help!” You would make me very happy if you could clean up the [store shelves] and make them look better next time you are in Walmart. He incentivized his fan base by offering a $5,000 prize for the best “shelfie” showing a before and after of the cleanup. The approach nudged his followers to be good citizens who leave the shelves in the same condition or better than before. 

By producing low-quality videos of himself playing video games and experimenting with offbeat challenges (such as counting to 100,000 without any sleep, or being buried in a coffin), MrBeast first amassed a niche audience of gamers, which he then broadened.  

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As he gained notoriety and more viewers, he moved to more elaborate scenarios and enormous giveaways. In a 2018 video, he gives a homeless man $10,000 from one of his first YouTube sponsorships, and documents the beginning of his efforts to help the less fortunate. In the ensuing years, MrBeast has been able to offer larger amounts of money through his videos by continually reinvesting what he earns from views and redeploying those capital resources to make mind-blowing and elaborate new videos that immediately go viral. 

The story of MrBeast is more than just one of rags to riches. He has used sponsorship money to randomly give away millions of dollars to ordinary people — from Uber drivers to Twitch streamers. 

Since then, inspired by his success in helping others and eliciting great online responses, MrBeast has become a philanthropist who now creates videos where he helps people clean up the world’s dirtiest beach, plant 20 million trees, cure people’s blindness, and drill a hundred wells so poor communities have clean and reliable water. All of this funded by his YouTube money. 

While most of us would describe him as a man with a golden heart, all this good has been met with disdain by some. Critics point out that his charitable work generates even more income for Jimmy Donaldson/MrBeast because it is posted on YouTube. 

Fortunately, he brushes off his critics with infectious enthusiasm, as he inspires the next generation to work hard to create what they love, give back to those who are less fortunate, and be accountable for what they say and write on social media.  

In the work he does, Jimmy Donaldson actively cultivates civility in the social and public squares and social consciousness. From Gen Z to Boomers, our fellow Americans should learn from MrBeast and strive to show love, empathy and compassion to one another. 

Wayne Geerling is a professor of Instruction at the University of Texas at Austin. 

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