The Potluck

City backs away from using social media influencers to spread ‘city-generated messages’ during Chauvin trial

By: - March 1, 2021 12:00 pm

A barbed wire barrier went up around the Minneapolis City Hall and Hennepin County Government Center on Feb. 24, 2021, in preparation for the murder trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

After a social media tsunami of negativity, Minneapolis officials scrapped a plan to use social media influencers to share information during the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin.

Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd on May 25. The trial begins with jury selection next Monday, and city officials had planned to pay “trusted messengers” with a large social media presence to share “city-generated and approved messages” and dispel misinformation.

Last week, a spokeswoman said the city was finalizing contracts with six social media influencers to share messages with the Black, Native American, East African, Hmong and Latino communities. The city had budgeted $12,000 for the influencers, with each set to be paid $2,000 to share information, according to city spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie.

But after the Reformer wrote about the plan, the backlash was swift and immediate on social media, with people accusing the city of everything from paying for propaganda to bracing people for Chauvin’s acquittal to reaching the “Instagram model propaganda wing phase of the dystopia.”

As the plan went viral and pushback intensified, some City Council members weighed in on Twitter, but were unsure whether they’d voted to approve this part of a larger package of proposals on Friday. 

David Rubedor, director of Neighborhood and Community Relations, responded Monday during a City Council briefing, saying the program was a response to many residents who aren’t connected to traditional roots for information. 

The social media influencers would have provided information quickly about interruptions to transit routes, building and street closures and security downtown so people can get to work, take care of their families and access resources during the high-profile trial to be held downtown, he said.

It was not about trying to persuade or change public opinion, Rubedor said.

“While I believe in and support the intention of this recommendation, we have seen that the impact has caused harm in our communities, and for that I am sorry,” he told the council. “At this point we will not move forward with this strategy.”

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.