YouTube star and former Disney actor Jake Paul has become embroiled in a controversy over his alleged promotion of mystery boxes to his young viewers.
Paul, who is just 21 years old and has 17.6m followers on his YouTube channel, has teamed up with rapper RiceGum to promote a mystery box brand called MysteryBrand.net. He released a 13-minute video on December 30 in which he signs up and buys the boxes to reveal the contents he won.
Mystery boxes may contain a huge win, or nothing – not unlike the TV show Deal or No Deal. Fans purchase a box without knowing the contents, often from major shopping sites such as eBay and often for a large sum of money. They then unbox the contents on their YouTube channel.
The MysteryBrands.net boxes actually display the potential contents of a box, which could be designer-branded trainers or clothing, or luxury goods. You pay the fee shown, then unbox the contents digitally.
Spend, spend, spend
In Paul’s video, he waves a wad of $5,000 (£3,978) banknotes before spending $99.99 (£79.55) many times to win Yeezy trainers by Kanye West and a pair of Nikes. But first he spent hundreds only to win Converse or other low-priced trainers. In a separate video, RiceGum appears to win $4 (£3.2) Apple Airpods that normally cost $150 (£119).
Paul states near the start of his film that he has partnered with MysteryBrand.net and the video is hashtagged as an advertisement. Later in the video, he tells viewers to try the boxes for themselves and let him know what they win.
However, the promotion by Paul has been described as “a scam” by both Paul’s young fans in comments on his channel and by a rising number of other YouTube stars who disapprove of promoting gambling to impressionable youngsters.
This is just the latest controversy for Paul, who has already faced problems releasing sexually explicit videos, using racial slurs in his rapping, and causing public disturbances.
Hundreds of comments below the video have condemned Paul for promoting gambling to his fans, the vast majority of whom are under 18, or for tricking them into spending money.
Meanwhile, Ethan Klein, one half of the H3H3 comedy duo and also a YouTube star, called out Paul on Twitter for exploiting his fans, saying: “Jake Paul & RiceGum are running a nice little gambling scam to usher in the new year.”
On a response video on YouTube, Klein added: “It’s a very strange overseas scam, the site is barely written in English,” and that Paul has introduced “what is quite literally gambling to an eight to 12 year old… and this is supposed to be a family-friendly site.”
Drama Alert star Keemstar also called out Paul on Twitter: “Jake Paul is now promoting gambling to kids. [P]romoting a gambling site where you pay $ Money for a chance to win Hype Beast stuff. They offered me money too.. What should [I] do?”
He then ran a poll asking whether he should “take $100k and promote” or “expose Jake Paul.” His fans voted 58% to expose Paul’s scam. Keemstar explained he too had been offered £100,000 to promote MysteryBrand.net but had declined.
Crackdown on loot boxes
At the time of writing, Paul’s video was still available on YouTube. It has been viewed 1.5m times and attracted more than 8,000 comments – mostly negative.
In 2018, Belgium had a crackdown on promoting gambling to underage children, particularly in-game purchase such as loot boxes, which like mystery boxes offer potentially exciting prizes, and have been deemed inappropriate for being “like gambling.”
However, several European regulators have declined to take any action thus far, saying that because loot boxes can’t be cashed out within a game, they do not constitute gambling.