The popular YouTube creator MrBeast, whose real name is Jimmy Donaldson, shook the internet last week when he announced that his first-ever video upload on the social media platform X – formerly known as Twitter – garnered over $250,000 in advertising revenue.

While some praised the impressive payout as validation of X’s money-making potential for creators, many others cried foul, convinced that X’s owner Elon Musk rigged the system to benefit his high-profile recruit as a marketing ploy to attract more creators.

Critics pointed to unusual aspects of the video’s formatting, age, and reach as evidence of favoritism from X to drive engagement. The company has remained mostly silent amid the uproar, though Musk recently responded “exactly” to a user defending the payout’s legitimacy.

X’s Former Communications Director Calls Out the Platform for Rigging the Game

The massive payout was all the more surprising because it wasn’t even a new or unique video. The 16-minute video titled “$1 vs $100,000,000 Car!” was originally posted to Donaldson’s YouTube channel four months ago, amassing over 216 million views. Last week, Donaldson re-uploaded the entire video to X as an “experiment” to test the platform’s monetization system.

Despite the fact that hundreds of millions of people had already seen the video on YouTube, it amassed another 150 million impressions and 5.1 million engagements on X in just one week.

The post rapidly gained traction, notching over 150 million impressions in just a few days according to Donaldson’s screenshot of the X Creator Analytics dashboard. He then announced his impressive $263,655 payout, attributing the earnings partly to advertisers taking notice of the views and buying ads on the viral video.

Many fellow creators and industry experts, however, aren’t buying the party line. They point to irregularities surrounding the video’s reach and formatting as evidence that X manipulated the system to benefit the influencer as a way to showcase that the platform is a great place for influencers to make money. The culprits may have also just been advertisers who paid extra to buy ads on the video as Donaldson himself theorized.

“X was playing funny with your video numbers, pushing into people’s feeds as an unlabeled ad, even if they didn’t follow you,” posted X’s former Communications Director Matt Graves, giving voice to the widespread suspicions. The official X account retweeting Donaldson’s video didn’t help dissuade the critics.

Unlike most posts which only appear in followers’ feeds, Donaldson’s video popped up repeatedly for many users. It also lacked a time stamp or label marking it as an ad which could be a violation of FTC requirements if the stunt was indeed a marketing ploy. Industry watchdog groups have recently accused X of deceptively pushing unlabeled ads to users, so suspicions immediately flared that Donaldson’s viral video received the same artificial boost.

MrBeast’s CPM Rates Seem Outsized Compared to Usual Averages

Some theorize that Donaldson’s video was covertly circulating as an “X Amplified” promotion. This fledgling program runs creators’ long-form video content as pre-roll ads, allowing both X and the creator to share revenues.

Donaldson’s earnings equate to a staggering $1.68 per 1000 views, whereas industry experts report average pre-roll CPM rates between $0.02 and $0.09. The scale of Donaldson’s views could account for some increase thanks to bulk discounts but a 55-83x multiplier seems quite dubious, especially considering X’s recent issues attracting high-paying advertisers.

Adding further fuel to accusations, many users reported not even seeing a pre-roll ad when the video auto-played. Others saw intermittent ads, but no indicator labeling the content as promotional.

If the video enjoyed “X Amplified” status, failing to properly identify it as an ad likely violates FTC rules on transparency. This aligns with recent complaints of similar deceptive practices by X when courting advertisers’ dollars.

Thus far, Musk has largely avoided addressing the simmering controversy beyond replying “Exactly” to a Tweet defending the payout as “not shady.”

Political commenters on both sides of the aisle also chimed in with quips either alleging favoritism from X or defending Donaldson’s earnings as standard influencer practice.

No matter whether the payout was entirely legitimate, it was still likely a major boon for Elon Musk and X. It may have sparked considerable outrage from some but even the vague prospect of making such a high CPM will likely attract other large content creators to the platform.

This doesn’t mean that X and Musk aren’t still in hot water. Opaque policies and glitchy technology have threatened to undermine confidence in systems designed to turn influencer content into ad revenue windfalls. The potential for large FTC fines makes the situation even more precarious. Unless these pitfalls are addressed transparently, this PR coup seems far more likely to become the latest Muskian misadventure.

Why Did MrBeast Decide to Test X Despite Reservations?

Donaldson’s breakout success places him at the top of YouTube’s elite, catering to an audience of over 100 million subscribers with budget-heavy stunt videos and challenges. While his extreme popularity creates nearly limitless fodder for ad revenue through Google’s generous partner program, Donaldson had previously resisted calls to also upload content directly to other platforms like X.

“My videos cost millions to make,” Donaldson tweeted in response to Musk’s request for him to give X a shot. “Even if they got a billion views on [X] it wouldn’t fund a fraction of it.”

Indeed, despite Musk’s overtures of higher revenue sharing for creators, industry data reveals considerably lower ad rates across the X ecosystem compared to YouTube. Gupta Media reports average YouTube CPMs of $4.06 in 2024 compared to just $1.36 for X during the same period.

So, what changed Donaldson’s mind to finally test the X waters (assuming he wasn’t in cahoots with Musk)? It may have just been that irresistible combination of curiosity and ego stroking. Musk has spent months aggressively courting top YouTube talent, touting X as THE future hub for digital creators despite stubbornly low ad revenue. Once he succeeded in capturing the attention of YouTube’s single biggest star, his effusive praise and promises may have simply worn down Donaldson’s resistance.

Furthermore, uploading old videos from months ago to X is likely more profitable than not because most people who were going to watch it on YouTube have already seen it. By putting it on X he reaches an entirely new audience (though there is significant overlap). But that doesn’t mean he is going to start uploading new videos to X as YouTube is no doubt more reliable and his videos often cost millions of dollars to film.

Of course, as Donaldson himself admits, his atypical success isn’t likely replicable for most aspiring creators either. The average X user doesn’t have Musk himself (or potentially even the site’s algorithm) pushing engagement on their behalf. That won’t prevent the stunt-loving Donaldson from continuing to dabble on X when the mood strikes, especially if the site’s owner keeps showering him with attention.

Whether other top YouTube talent jumps on the X bandwagon remains to be seen, but Musk has pulled off quite a publicity coup by convincing MrBeast to take the plunge, ethical whiffs aside. Now, he must actually deliver on his promises to turn X into a creator-centered ecosystem where influencers can earn life-changing money from creating original viral content. Otherwise, he may have snagged the biggest fish in the YouTube sea for nothing.