X pushed MrBeast’s video into users’ timelines, but hid that advertisers paid to put it there

If you’ve been scrolling X in the past week, you’ve probably seen YouTuber MrBeast in a video looking back at you. And unless you’re an avid fan of his, you likely don’t know why.

The answer is: Advertisers are pushing it into your timeline, but X isn’t telling you that. And that’s a problem.

Let’s rewind.

MrBeast is one of YouTube’s most popular creators, and last week he uploaded his latest YouTube video to X for the first time. He said it was a “test” to see “how much ad revenue a video on X would make.” He then promised to share his cut of its ad revenue the following week.

The video post, which lacked any sort of “promoted” or “ad” label, started showing up in users’ feeds… like, a lot. People were rightfully suspicious as to why, since it looked like organic content. X user @SHL0MS even wondered: “it is both missing the post time next to the username (indicative of a normal user post) and the Ad indicator on the top right so is there a third, secret type of post you get when you’re a YouTuber and Elon wants you to post here?”

The answer: Kind of. X has an ad product called “Amplify Pre-roll” which allows advertisers’ to run video ads before a publishers’ video content. In the case of the MrBeast video, a Shopify ad ran in front of it. And when a post contains a video that has an Amplify Pre-roll ad in it, the post is promoted into users’ feeds like an ad, except it isn’t labeled. An X employee told Ryan Broderick of the Garbage Day newsletter that X considers this pre-roll ad the disclosure and that is why there is no “ad” or “promoted” label on the actual MrBeast post itself.

But here’s the thing: If the whole post is being promoted into users’ feeds, it should be disclosed. Sneaking paid-for content into timelines is not only annoying (as in the MrBeast scenario), but it misleads users and content creators into trusting content as organic and exacerbates the opportunity for scams to occur. It’s also against FTC guidelines. We filed a complaint to the FTC about X’s shady ad disclosures, including the Amplify Pre-roll ad product, back in November.

In the complaint, we document that X isn’t upfront with advertisers or content creators about how labeling works, either. For example, we uncovered a pretty large discrepancy in how X was communicating the Amplify Pre-roll product to advertisers. In promotional materials X highlights that the post with the pre-roll ad will still be labeled. That has apparently changed, as confirmed by the X employee to Broderick.

Source: X Ad Formats promotional website. Edited to show emphasis around labels

And content creator MrBeast himself calls the video revenue he made (over $250,000!) a “bit of a facade.” We agree — because if your video has a pre-roll ad and is being boosted like promoted content into users’ feeds without the proper label, then it’s probably going to make more ad revenue while confusing the hell out of users.

Coupled with the rise of extremist content and political ads rolling in before 2024 what can go wrong with undisclosed ads filling people’s timelines? We don’t want to find out. All ads on X must be clearly labeled.

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