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Minneapolis scraps plan to pay 'influencers' to share information during Chauvin trial

The plan to pay influencers to share city-approved messages during the trials of the officers charged in George Floyd's death drew criticism.

The City of Minneapolis is no longer going to pay social media "influencers" to share information during the trials of the former Minneapolis police officers charged in the death of George Floyd.

This comes days after the City Council approved a Joint Information System (JIS) plan that would have paid influencers $2,000 each to share "city-approved" messages on social media. 

With all eyes on Minneapolis again ahead of Derek Chauvin's murder trial, which begins March 8, city and state law enforcement officials have been preparing to keep the peace during the trial, including fortification efforts and sending in the Minnesota National Guard. (The trial for the other officers is scheduled for August.)

Meanwhile, the City of Minneapolis has been working on a JIS plan to share important city information, facts and dispel misinformation during the trials, especially among non-English speakers, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous People of Color) communities and those who may not follow traditional news media or city communications channels. 

The civil unrest and destructive riots following Floyd's death in May were rife with misinformation that spread quickly online, and a single night of rioting in downtown Minneapolis in August was sparked when rumors spread that police had fatally shot a Black man who had actually taken his own life.

To thwart misinformation and keep residents informed, the Minneapolis City Council on Friday approved the Communications and Neighborhood and Community Relations departments' JIS plan

The plan includes inviting community groups to apply for paid contracts through the city's Office of Violence Prevention so when there's heightened tension in the city, these groups would be activated to provide community engagement. 

The city is also working with local radio stations to expand its cultural programming to reach more BIPOC communities.

Another part of the JIS was to hire social media influencers, paying them $2,000 each to share "city-generated and approved" messages with communities who don't typically follow news media or city channels, including translating the messages into other languages, the Minnesota Reformer first reported. 

But this portion of the plan quickly drew criticism due to the influencers being tasked with sharing "city-approved" messages. Some have said many will likely be skeptical of these city-generated messages because they don't always trust the city to relay truthful information, especially after the Minneapolis Police Department's comms team first described Floyd's death as a "medical incident during police interaction."

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City spokesperson Sarah McKenzie confirmed to Bring Me The News on Monday that it will no longer be paying social media influencers, but it is still moving forward with the other portions of the Council-approved JIS plan detailed above.

McKenzie said Communications Director Greta Bergstrom and Neighborhood and Community Relations Director David Rubedor sent an email to Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and the City Council Sunday night informing them of this decision. 

"While we believe in and support the intention of this recommendation (social media influencers), we have seen the impact has caused harm. We are sorry and acknowledge that we will have to work to repair the harm that has been caused," the letter says. 

"At this point, we will NOT move forward with this strategy. We will continue to bring forth recommendations to the JIS with the intention of the City doing better reaching all residents, in ways that are meaningful for them," the letter add.

Here's the full letter: 

"Mayor Frey, Council President Bender, Council Members:

"We would like to take a moment to address the recommendation to use social media “influencers” as part of the Joint Information System information sharing strategies.

"In our experience, we have heard repeatedly that many residents are not connected to the city's traditional routes of sharing information. We often hear from residents that they were not informed of significant information or resources. With this, we are constantly seeking out ways to make sure that all residents are informed of timely and accurate information in ways that are meaningful for them. Our goal is to have equitable access and distribution of information.

"Knowing that information such as interruptions to transit routes, buildings being closed, the security infrastructure installed downtown, and road closures all will have impacts on residents who are trying to work, take care of their families, or access important services, our recommendations were to seek out additional ways to get that type of information to all residents.

"We have also heard from our communities that if we ask them to assist with sharing information, we should honor their work and compensate them.

"While we believe in and support the intention of this recommendation, we have seen the impact has caused harm. We are sorry and acknowledge that we will have to work to repair the harm that has been caused.

"At this point, we will NOT move forward with this strategy. We will continue to bring forth recommendations to the JIS with the intention of the City doing better reaching all residents, in ways that are meaningful for them."

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