The rise of social media, especially Instagram in 2010, gave birth to the influencers as we know them today. Influencers endorse, feature, or review a multitude of products, from tech and gadgets to food and fashion, depending on their niche expertise on Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok and YouTube.
However, a new kind of influencer has crawled out of the social media woodwork over the past few years. The "Influencer Philanthropist" is an influencer with a generous bent, initiating charitable activities and organizing community events or projects that highlight global issues and possible solutions. They hope to influence their audience to help and inspire them to develop their own philanthropic initiatives.
Popular YouTuber MrBeast is an example of this new breed of influencer. Jimmy Donaldson is a 23-year old Internet personality that has helped reshape the traditional influencer and the concept of philanthropy. His goal is to end hunger by leveraging his social media reach, influence, content and platform. He has been online since he was 12, starting with quirky challenges and is wildly popular, with views regularly in the millions per new post.
As he got older, his content evolved, mashing up challenge and donation drive videos that offered thousand-dollar rewards. His main YouTube channel currently has 94 million subscribers (or subs) though he also has other popular spin-off channels and one purely dedicated to his philanthropy.
Aside from being one of the ten highest-paid YouTubers in 2020, he also co-founded "Team Seas", a fundraiser that hit the $30 million mark, for the benefit of Ocean Conservancy and The Ocean Cleanup. He has hosted numerous food drives, once giving away 10,000 frozen Thanksgiving turkeys and more.
But there is a flip side to this form of philanthropy, especially concerning the various corporate sponsors and how their vested interests influence which projects receive support and those passed over.
"MrBeast: Capitalism & Philanthropy" breaks down how MrBeast, and others like him, are standing at the intersection of capitalism, philanthropy and development, forming a new "philanthrocapitalist" model. Team Seas, for example, is supported by Coca Cola, one of the world's leading producers (and therefore polluters) of plastic PET bottles, which ironically, is sure to have been part of the 30 million tons of trash Team Seas eventually collected.
These companies have now realized the inherent PR value of these influencer philanthropists and how goodwill towards them could rub off on their own corporate reputation and image. The support is possibly prompted by corporate self-interest rather than true generosity and concern for the planet.