Controversial YouTube stunts: from being buried alive to emergency landings

After being slammed for his real-life ‘Squid Game’, MrBeast is not the first social media prankster to take their quest for views and attention too far

From left: YouTubers Logan Paul, Muhammed Bahcecik and James Potok have all come under fire for their controversial online stunts. Photo: Logan Paul / YouTube; Muhammed Bahcecik / YouTube; 6ixBuzzTV / Instagram
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YouTube star MrBeast made headlines last week when he shared a video of his version of Netflix show Squid Game, which he created at the cost of $3.5 million.

MrBeast, whose real name is Jimmy Donaldson, teamed up with mobile gaming company Brawl Sports to build the sets and recreate the games made famous by the South Korean show, including Glass Bridge and Red Light/Green Light. He invited 456 people to participate for the chance to win $456,000.

However, the video quickly came under fire for missing the point of the message behind the popular TV show, which was to highlight the damaging effects of personal debt in South Korea.

Donaldson has been credited with pioneering a new genre of stunt on the video-sharing platform under the guise of philanthropy, often going to expensive extremes to post attention-grabbing content, such as “Paying People $10,000 To Eat A Ghost Pepper” and “Last To Remove Hand Wins House.”

However, influencers before him have pushed the boundaries of what they’re willing to do and show, as they seek to stand out in an increasingly saturated and competitive field.

With YouTubers battling for views, likes and subscribers, here are four other YouTube stunts that have come under fire for their controversial content:

Turkish influencer buried alive

YouTuber Muhammed Bahcecik hit upon a controversial way to increase his views in September, by promising his followers he would be buried alive if he reached 450,000 subscribers to his channel.

Bahcecik had a special glass coffin constructed in which he spent six hours buried beneath the soil in Istanbul’s Tuzla district, with a tube coming out of the ground to feed him oxygen.

He hosted a full “funeral”, including a headstone at the site of the stunt and a ambulance on standby, with cameras placed inside the coffin to capture the event.

“I did not panic. I understood the value of living with this experience. I am fine. I am just cold,” he told his subscribers after he was dug up.

YouTuber diverts flight with Covid-19 claim

A prank by Canadian influencer James Potok last year caused a flight to make an emergency landing, with Potok arrested when the plane touched down.

He was on a flight from Toronto, Canada to Montego Bay in Jamaica when he stood up and announced: “I just came back from Hunan province, the capital of the coronavirus … I'm not feeling too well. Thank you," according to Toronto's City News.

Airline staff quickly put Potok in a mask and gloves and the flight was diverted with 243 people on board.

Potok later issued an apology on his YouTube channel. “This was blown out of proportion, and I am here to apologise today for any issues and all problems I caused to everybody involved in the situation … Looking back at what I said, I am extremely disappointed in myself," he said.

'Active shooter' prank shuts down Walt Disney World

Dillon Burch was arrested and spent three days in jail after telling guests at Walt Disney World resort in Florida there was a gunman on the property, then filming their reactions for a YouTube video. Photo: Orange County Jail

YouTuber Dillion Burch caused panic at Walt Disney World resort in Florida in May 2018 after telling guests there was an active shooter at the theme park.

Later admitting to police he was staging a prank for his YouTube channel, Burch approached guests telling them to evacuate the resort because there was a gunman on the loose. He then told them he was joking and filming their reactions for social media.

He later told staff he was working on a school project to capture people’s reactions to a potential emergency.

Burch was arrested and sentenced to three days in jail after pleading no contest to disorderly intoxication and disturbing the peace at a public lodging.

Logan Paul's 'Suicide Forest' video

YouTuber-turned-boxer Logan Paul was criticised by followers and mental health charities after filming and posting to YouTube a video of a man purported to have taken his own life. AFP

Prominent YouTube star Logan Paul came in for harsh criticism back in December 2017 when he posted a video that appeared to show a dead body, while on holiday in Japan.

Paul, who has amassed a $35 million fortune off the back of his early YouTube stunts, visited Aokigahara forest, also known as the Sea of Trees, with a group of friends. The forest is renowned for being a spot where many people have taken their lives, and while videoing the visit, Paul filmed the body they came across.

“This is not clickbait. This is the most real vlog I've ever posted to this channel,” he said in the since removed video, according to New York Magazine. “I think this definitely marks a moment in YouTube history because I'm pretty sure this has never hopefully happened to anyone on YouTube ever. Now with that said: Buckle … up, because you're never gonna see a video like this again!”

The backlash against Paul’s insensitivity caused him to take a three-week break from YouTube, returning to say: “I will never, ever forget who I am at my core and no one can make me think I'm something otherwise … And even though I [messed] up – like, I'm an idiot – it doesn’t feel good to have millions of people telling you to go die.”

Updated: November 28, 2021, 10:56 AM