Minneapolis City Council said Monday it’s no longer continuing with plans to contract social media influencers to spread city-approved messages during the murder trial against Derek Chauvin, an ex-cop charged in George Floyd’s death, after activists accused the city of buying the narrative about the case.
During a virtual briefing discussing public safety and security preparations for the upcoming trial, David Rubedor, Minneapolis director of Neighborhood and Community Relations (NCR), apologized after receiving negative feedback from community members over plans to pay six influencers $2,000 each to spread messaging targeting Black, Native American, Somali, Hmong and Latinx communities.
“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,” Rubedor said. “We acknowledge that we have caused a harm and we will work to repair the harm that was caused by this strategy. At this point, we will not move forward with this strategy.”
The $12,000 set out to employ the social media influencers was only part of an over $1 million communications and de-escalation plan approved by City Council Friday to partner with community leaders and local media to fight against misinformation during the trial.
Rubedor said the NCR “will continue to bring forth recommendations to the joint information system with the intention of the city doing better to reach of their residents in ways that are meaningful to them, but we will not pursue the cultural social media partners.”
“This was never about trying to persuade or change public opinion about any particular message but it was about getting important information out quickly and in an equitable way,” Rubedor said, explaining that his department was seeking ways to ensure residents “are informed of timely and accurate information in ways that are meaningful to them.”
Local activists criticized the move, arguing the city aimed to buy the narrative surrounding the trial, stamp out free speech and protests, and turn influencers into mouthpieces for the city, WCCO reported.
“We have heard that many residents are not connected to the city’s traditional routes of sharing information and we often heard from residents that they were not informed of significant information or resources that were available,” he continued, explaining his previous reasoning on the social media plan. “We also have heard from communities through our experience that if we ask them to help the city by doing their work we should honor that work and compensate them for that work.”
“For this strategy, we used the term ‘social media influencer,’ which in retrospect did not accurately reflect what we are asking of our partners and it caused confusion in the community.”
The city communications strategy, called Joint Information System (JIS), aims to “offer enhanced community services during the trial to keep people informed and safe, especially non-English and Black, Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) communities and small businesses that do not rely on traditional media.”
During the briefing Monday, police officials also discussed their strategy for the trial called “Operation: Safety Net” that set to begin full deployment of law enforcement and National Guard troops when closing arguments and a verdict is expected to be announced.
Floyd, who was Black, died May 25 after Chauvin, who is White, pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck while he was handcuffed and pleading that he couldn’t breathe. Chauvin faces second-degree murder and manslaughter charges. Jury selection begins March 8 with opening statements scheduled for March 29.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said more than 3,000 law enforcement officers from across the state and National Guard soldiers will be at the ready when the case goes to the jury. Last week, the mayor declared that Minneapolis remains “open for business,” and said people should go about their lives as usual.
But new security measures around the Hennepin County courthouse, City Hall and jail — all in the heart of downtown — includes three rings of concrete barriers, two topped by chain-link fencing with a trough in between filled with coils of razor wire. The innermost fence is topped with barbed wire, and ground-floor windows at all three buildings are boarded up, The Associated Press reported.