Johannesburg - World-renowned YouTuber MrBeast is no stranger to controversy.
Despite his overwhelming popularity online, the world’s richest YouTuber has often been criticised for the way he’s garnered views on his popular YouTube channel.
In January, the 25-year-old appeared in a video on his channel showing how he helped scores of blind people from the US and across the world remove their cataracts with the help of a not-for-profit organisation.
Critics then accused him of using their suffering to increase his wealth and fame.
Now, he has been criticised again.
This time, MrBeast, whose real name is Jimmy Donaldson, has been accused of using a struggling South African orphanage to garner views for his channel.
Recently, the Youtuber uploaded a video on the reconstruction of the Baphumelele orphanage in Cape Town, in which he boasts of rebuilding it.
Donaldson ploughed millions of dollars into filming the reconstruction of the orphanage, and within days of uploading the video, the video had garnered well over 15 million views.
But while he said he had good intentions to help, it is alleged that Donaldson ignored pleas from various humanitarian groups to stop his “philanthropic stunt” amid concerns that orphanages were a haven for “violence, abuse and neglect”.
The movement to end orphanages worldwide and instead, find families for children is backed by the UN, EU, Commonwealth and the South African government.
In 2019, a UN General Assembly Resolution on Rights of the Child, urged member states to progressively replace orphanages with quality alternative care, such as foster networks and social workers.
Lourenza Foghill, from Hope and Homes for Children, said MrBeast had chosen to“'completely ignore” those voices, despite the charity contacting him in March, shortly after he released a video appealing for donations to his orphanage project.
Foghill said the YouTuber’s stunt to help the SA orphanage was a case of “white saviourism”.
“MrBeast is denying the so-called ‘orphans’ from Baphumele their right to grow up in a family,” Foghill told British publication the “Daily Mail” recently.
While the charity stressed there was no suggestion of wrongdoing at the Baphumelele orphanage, evidence showed that 80% of the 5.4 million children confined in orphanages weren’t orphans – they had family who could care for them.
Campaigners say most children who grow up in such institutions suffer abuse and neglect and are more likely to become homeless later in life, experience mental health issues and have run-ins with the law.
Some charities, among them Hope and Homes and the Lumos Foundation, of which JK Rowling is president, wrote to MrBeast’s team in March to make the point, after his video appealing for donations to save the Baphumelele orphanage hit 15 million views.
Last month, Donaldson uploaded a new video, titled “We Adopted an Orphanage”, which says his venture Beast Philanthropy has saved Baphumelele from closure after six months of tireless work in which his team built 12 new homes, provided an ongoing supply of fresh food and repaired its dilapidated playground.
It says the orphanage had saved around 5 000 lives.
The video features the heart-warming story of orphanage founder Mama Rosie, who is led blindfolded to her newly renovated project before the big unveil leaves her close to tears.
Lumos said in a statement that although Mama Rosie’s orphanage appeared well-intentioned, that was not the case for all such institutions.
“Many orphanages across the world are set up to exploit children for profit, exposing children to harm and abuse. By promoting orphanages, even well-intentioned ones, we promote the work of those that are not, continuing the cycle of exploitation,” the charity said.
“We do not believe that anyone in the video has bad intentions, including Mama Rosie and MrBeast. But if we are going to support children in the best way possible, we need to move away from promoting the orphanage system and start supporting families with community-based care, so that their children can remain where they belong.”
“The Saturday Star” attempted to contact MrBeast and Baphumelele orphanage this week, but were unable to reach them.
Donaldson has amassed a staggering estimated net worth of more than $500 million (R9.5 billion), largely based around extravagant stunts in which he offers lavish gifts to unwitting members of the public.
Earlier this month, he said he had garnered the most YouTube views in 24 hours on a non-music video with his clip “7 Days Stranded At Sea“.
The video features the YouTuber and four of his friends, purposely getting themselves stranded on a raft in the middle of the ocean for a week.
When boasting of his new record, which was unverified, he also took aim at his critics on X, formerly known as Twitter.
He wrote: “I don’t ever want to hear I only get views because I give away money. We broke the world record with me and my friends suffering and cracking jokes lol.”