It turns out paying influencers to post for George Floyd trial isn't such a good idea for a city
In preparation for the upcoming murder trial of former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin on Friday, the city approved $1.18 million in funding for communications, including plans to hire six social media influencers. The goal was to use a flat rate of $2,000 per influencer to have them reinforce the city’s messaging directly targeting people of color in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, city officials told CBS Minnesota. The city, however, is backtracking on the plan after it garnered fair criticism from activists.
Toussaint Morrison, an activist with an Instagram following of more than 11,000 users, told CBS Minnesota he’s worried about the predictable bias coming from influencers paid by the city. “The key word here is ‘city-approved’,” he told the news station. “What do you think the message is going to be? It’s going to be pro-city, it’s going to be anti-protest.”
City officials clarified their plan on Monday during a virtual public safety meeting preparing for the trial. David Rubedor, director of the city’s Neighborhood and Community Relations department, said during the meeting that city residents have been voicing concerns about traditional methods of communication and reporting that residents have not been properly informed. As a strategy of addressing their concerns, the city used the phrase “social media influencer, which in retrospect did not accurately reflect what we are asking of our partners, and it caused confusion in the community,” Rubedor said.
“This was never about trying to persuade or change public opinion about any particular message” he added. “It was about getting important information out quickly and in an equitable way.” Rubedor gave as examples of the kind of information he is referencing as changes in transit routes, street closures, and security infrastructure downtown. He said he’s also heard from community partners that if the city asks them to do work it should “honor that work and compensate them for that work,” so Rubedor supported the influencer recommendation. After seeing the harm it caused, however, he apologized and said the city would not be pursuing cultural social media partners.
City officials will, however, be looking into other recommendations for ways to keep lines of communication open between the city and the public during the Chauvin trial, which is scheduled to begin jury selection the week of March 8.
Chauvin is accused of murdering Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody after multiple video clips showed Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes while other officers held him down on May 25. The incident inspired protests throughout the country, with demonstrators calling for an end to police brutality and a reduction in funding for police departments with documented histories of brutality. In Minneapolis specifically, officers responded to the protests with a brutal showing of force, allegedly shooting journalists in the face with rubber bullets and in some cases partially blinding them.
A journalist asked during the recent meeting how law enforcement is making sure the media will have “full access and safe access to do their jobs during the trial,” and he got in response Communications Director Greta Bergstrom’s explanation of a joint information system allowing the city and county to share information and push it out to the public. “I’m not sure if that answers the question,” Bergstrom said.
“It does not answer the question,” the reporter responded. “Last year, members of the media were blinded by non-lethal projectiles from the Minneapolis Police Department, and I would like to know … if we’re seeing a situation like that, what procedures have been put in place? How have you talked with the media to make sure that nothing close to this happens again?”
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said during the meeting that media credentialing was an important takeaway from last year’s protests to make sure police “can readily identify” people covering the trial and demonstrations. He also said he would be communicating with the media things to watch for that may be indicative of “bad actors” coming in to commit crimes during otherwise peaceful demonstrations. Arradondo said his strategy is mainly about communicating with the media. “When law enforcement is, for example, giving dispersal orders,” Arradondo explained that he plans to “after those three dispersal orders” inform the media of “what they could reasonably expect, whether law enforcement will go in and give citations, make arrests or the possible use if crimes are occurring and there’s a need for gas immunition.”
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has already activated the Minnesota National Guard, “at the city’s request” in preparation for the trial, city officials said in a news release on February 17. “Crews have also started installing a security perimeter around the Hennepin County Government Center, City Hall and other nearby buildings in preparation for the trial,” the city said in the release. “The perimeter will remain in place until the conclusion of the Chauvin trial.”
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said in the release: “As the national spotlight again turns to Minneapolis, our focus will remain on the safety of residents, small businesses, and neighborhoods whose lives and livelihoods will continue to be impacted throughout the trial.
“Public safety is our core responsibility while we work to honor the magnitude of this moment, partnering with communities confronting a renewed trauma from the killing of George Floyd,” Frey added. “Our city will be tested in the weeks to come – and our local government is prepared to meet those challenges together.” City Council Member Jamal Osman said in the release that the first step in “rebuilding trust is honesty and good communication.”
“The City cannot control what happens in the courtroom across the street,” Osman said. “And we cannot, unfortunately, control what happened in the past. But what we can control is our future. How honest, how transparent, and how direct we are in communicating with our affected communities. Today is a good first step.”