A self-proclaimed “Magician Prankster” who goes by Magic of Rahat on YouTube and Twitter posted a video called Homeless Lottery Winner about 24 hours ago. It’s been viewed more than two million times since then, and for good reason — our hero plays a prank on the unsuspecting homeless man, and that prank turns out to be $1,000 in cold hard cash to a man down on his luck. He cries, you cry, everyone cries. Onions for all.
But here’s the question: When are good deeds just good deeds, and where is the line where good deeds meets pimping out the homeless as props in the emotional clickbait economy? And, should that even matter?
Watch the video and you’ll see that our magic man here is definitely doing a good deed, and the end result is a homeless man walking away with $1,000. That’s great! Who can downplay this effort? But taken together in the larger scope of YouTubers who are building their #personal #brands by seemingly casting homeless people in their springboards to instant v i r a l fame, and there may be something more troubling at play here.
There’s nothing all that new about the cynical exploitation of those less fortunate for clicks, views and subscribers. But this leap to fame online has quickly developed into a genre: Helping the homeless with the world watching has become one of the web’s easiest ways to get noticed.
The Columbus Dispatch reporter who first recorded Ted Williams — “the homeless man with the golden voice” who was given his 15 minutes before checking back into rehab — probably reinvented the genre back in January 2011. From there, just *some* examples, we’ve seen a homeless veteran’s transformation into a GQ model rack up 17 million views; we’ve seen an Iron Man impersonator giving back to his community collect 1.7 million views; this magician turning $1s into $100s has nearly 5 million views on his video; a jerk-prankster named Vitaly Zdorovetskiy started giving makeovers to the tune of 7 million views; and this Good Guy crew called Whatever gave $3,000 to a homeless man who could twitch his mustache like a boss.
To be sure, these YouTubers are actually helping individuals in the short term. That’s commendable. But there’s very little follow-through, nor public concern for what comes next, and like Ted Williams, it’s possible that such a quick flurry of attention and charity may be harmful in the long-term. But let’s leave aside the “give a man a fish/teach a man to fish” proverb and instead question the motivations for doing such acts of charity and goodwill.
If there were no possibility whatsoever this could help build their YouTube subscriber base, would these charitable internet stars be doing these good deeds off-camera and off-brand? When you take these videos together, you start to wonder whether these folks identified inefficiencies in the clickbait market, much like Upworthy and its “YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED NEXT” imitators, that allow them to play on people’s emotions that ultimately lead to highly shareable, and monetizable, content.
But, and here’s where the real debate comes, should any of this matter? If the homeless man in the news peg above walks away with $1,000, and the magic man who filmed it walks away with some new subscribers and a few hundred bucks in YouTubitcoins, and writers like me can huff and puff for a few meager shekels of ad money, who exactly is getting harmed?
In almost every piece HyperVocal has published about these Good Deeders, we’ve praised them. But should we be? Normally we don’t say stuff like “Weigh in below,” but weigh in below. Like Glenn Beck, we’re just asking questions. We’d love to hear thoughts on the matter.
Feel free to also tweet your thoughts to @SladeHV. He’s bored.