Cops clueless about generous YouTubers’ income source

A YouTuber, Harsha Sai, built a house for a barber and surprised him by sending him and his family to Kerala for a holiday

HYDERABAD: It has been a new fad for YouTubers and video bloggers to fund construction of houses and offer holiday trips and other freebies to followers.

They have been running campaigns and funding houses and holiday trips to random people, but the sources of their income remain unchecked by the authorities as the cybercrime officials have no clue about them. Several such ‘influencers’ are actively sharing videos of making people ‘millionaires’ in the city and the source of their funds remains a mystery. When asked about the same, the cops said if given a complaint, they would look into it.

A YouTuber, Harsha Sai, built a house for a barber and surprised him by sending him and his family to Kerala for a holiday. He also built a petrol station where he offers free petrol to his subscribers who must show proof that they watched his videos. They can also spin a wheel and carry ‘as much cash as they can in two handfuls’ if they win. Activists from the city are questioning the authenticity and legalities of pulling off such stunts. “The documentation, logistics and legal aspects of something this large scale baffle me. Tax and other aspects are a different story altogether,” said Arjun Rao, an activist from Madhapur who has been following such YouTubers.

“You can see netizens tweeting about the authenticity of Harsha Sai’s videos and getting abused in return as he is ‘doing good work to the people’. The good work part covers scope for scams. Even in the case of videos showcasing YouTubers helping people with money, gifts and other services, there is no harmful or hurtful content, hence, all you get to see is praise. What nobody asks or checks is where do these people get their funding from. This could be a perfect way of laundering black money,” said Omar Ahmed, a digital analyst who monitors YouTube activities.

Srinivas Kodali, a researcher working on data, governance and internet, said the police would only take an action once a complaint is received or there is some cognizable offence noticed. “Unless they see some cognizable offence, something that clearly violates the rules, it could be counted as fraud. The legitimacy of such videos and the money behind such operations have to be checked,” he said.

Such videos, including crowdfunding ones, were violating the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), which was an expansion or improvement of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA), said Syed Abdahu Kashaf, a social and civil rights activist. “In my opinion, social media is misused by YouTubers and they are conducting crowdfunding as well, which is violating federal laws and the money is ending up directly into their personal account, which is another violation. Regular checks and audits must be conducted on their channels and the income,” he said.

Even after multiple attempts to reach Harsha Sai and his team, he was unavailable for comment on this issue.

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