Update 3/1, 12:27 p.m.: During a council meeting held after the publication of this piece, the city canceled its plans to hire social media influencers. The original story follows below.
The city of Minneapolis is planning to hire six social media influencers to spread city-friendly propaganda during the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd. The city hopes that the information campaign will prevent further protests in the city.
According to CBSN 4 in Minnesota, the influencers will intentionally target Black, Native American, Somali, Hmong, and Latinx communities during the trial. Each influencer will be paid $2,000.
Friday, the Minneapolis City Council approved $1,181,500 for communications around the trial, which include money for the social media influencer campaign. City coordinator Mark Ruff said during a council meeting on Friday, where the funding was voted on and approved, that the city’s “anticipation is that those contracts will be around de-escalation and increased community communication … [it] will be emphasizing communications especially on cultural radio and through social media influencers and making sure we get the word out about what’s happening with the trials.”
He added that they will also focus on “what the options are for the community to engage, and particularly communities who are not utilizing the city's website or other traditional media sources where there will be information also disseminated."
During Friday's meeting, city council president Lisa Bender noted that the trial will be live-streamed, calling it an "unusual situation" for people to see what's happening live. "We already see groups in a volunteer capacity stepping up and helping communicate and facilitate communication with members of our community, and I think this is our city acknowledging that a lot of that work is going unpaid and that the city should step up and provide resources to help fund that," she said.
"When we’re communicating about this, we need to acknowledge the harm that was caused by the city in the first place from George Floyd's death, from actions by our police department that followed," Bender said, "and so I think we also understand that not everyone in our community trusts the city as a communicator and we’re working to acknowledge that as a way to help our community move forward."
Minneapolis City Council told CBSN Minnesota in a statement that the goal is "to increase access to information to communities that do not typically follow mainstream news sources or City communications channels and/or who do not consume information in English. It’s also an opportunity to create more two-way communication between the City and communities."
In May of 2020, Chauvin stopped Floyd outside of a Minneapolis convenience store where the clerk claimed he tried to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. Chauvin handcuffed Floyd and then kneeled on Floyd's neck until he died. The murder was caught on video, where Floyd and onlookers can be heard pleading for the officer to stop for more than eight minutes, while three other officers watched.
Chauvin was taken into custody in May, and was released after posting $1 million non-cash bail in October. He was charged with third-degree murder, second-degree unintentional murder, and a second-degree manslaughter charge, but a judge dropped the third-degree charge in October. Today, the court will hear arguments on whether the third-degree charge will be reinstated. The jury selection is set to begin on March 8.
In the weeks following Floyd's death, thousands of protestors took to the streets in Minneapolis and around the country, where protests frequently turned violent after police escalation and brutality. The Minneapolis Police Department established "Operation Safety Net," which involves bringing in the National Guard, to protect property in the city during the trial. Operation Safety Net started its own Facebook page in February.
Hiring influencers to spread "messaging" seems to be directly tied to preventing additional protests. In the past, decisions by prosecutors and Grand Juries to not pursue legal action against cops who have killed Black people have led directly to protests. Similarly, not-guilty verdicts and acquittals of police who have been tried have also led to protests from people who believe justice was not carried out.
The city’s Neighborhood and Community Relations staff will choose which influencers to recommend.
“The key word here is ‘city-approved’,” activist and influencer Toussaint Morrison told CBSN 4. “What do you think the message is going to be? It’s going to be pro-city, it’s going to be anti-protest.”