MrBeast Calls His Employees Friends — And That’s a Problem

mrbeast friends
topform/Shutterstock Beast Reacts/YouTube Remix by Caterina Cox

Last week, YouTube’s biggest star, Jimmy “MrBeast” Donaldson, faced criticism after saying he didn’t consider himself rich. In a Feb. 15 Time Magazine profile, the 25-year-old said he makes around $700 million a year. But he doesn’t think of himself as wealthy. This is because he reinvests most of his revenue into his future business prospects. 

The Time profile also mentioned Donaldson can afford a personal chef and trainer. He also bought an entire neighborhood for his workers to live in. So, understandably, many people thought that logic was a bit… questionable.

However, all this debate might have distracted us from a more nebulous yet important detail in the Time profile about how the MrBeast business is run. A Business Insider article from earlier this week smartly pointed out that the Time profile also revealed that Donaldson doesn’t like to use “traditional” job titles for his employees.

So what does MrBeast prefer to call his employees? FOFs — friends of friends.

“Jimmy gets uncomfortable and gets angry when people use language like PA [production assistant] because it’s too industry,” one former MrBeast staffer told Time.

While this MrBeast friends debaucle may seem like a small detail, it could have some dangerous consequences. Business Insider spoke with a variety of human resources and business operations experts, who explained these dangers in detail. In summary, a lack of professional boundaries and clearly defined roles can easily descend an organization into “chaos.” Without a proper HR system in place, accountability is hard to enforce.

In the MrBeast friends case, we’ve already seen this play out. Former employees told the New York Times in 2021 that MrBeast companies “have been rife with favoritism and bullying.” Employees revealed that many of those hired were MrBeast friends, family, and acquaintances. Some found followings of their own after being in his videos.

Of course, at the beginning of a creator’s life cycle, this makes sense. Creators often start out by making videos with their closest friends. 

In this regard, the advent of social media provided upward mobility for a small group of creators and their loved ones. Early creators, like mommy bloggers or YouTube friend groups like Rhett & Link or Smosh, were a trailblazing class that eschewed the gatekeepers of days past.

In order to have a creative career, it was no longer necessary to break through the glass ceiling at major media corporations or agencies. You could just make some money hanging out with your buddies.

But things have changed as more money rolled into the ecosystem. The old-school narrative about the creator economy — that it’s an easy way to make money doing fun things with your friends — can at times distract us. It makes it harder to understand the difficult conditions of social media work. And the growing financial power of social media titans. 

As Passionfruit contributor Lon Harris explains in an article this week, YouTube is now the top streaming giant — eclipsing both Netflix and Amazon Prime. The top “creators” on YouTube today are no longer mom-and-pop shops. They are media empires.

The top class of creators like MrBeast have eschewed traditional gatekeepers. But the creative people working underneath them, including their “friends,” have also been gutted of the traditional benefits of working for a media company.

The 40-hour work week, health insurance, paid time off, promotions, steady career progression, child labor laws, discrimination protections, legal rights to organize — these protections are few and far between for most creators. …

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