George Floyd: Minneapolis wanted to pay social media influencers to fight misinformation around Derek Chauvin trial

The plan seemed simple enough: The City of Minneapolis was going to enlist the help of several key community influencers with the hopes of handling misinformation on social media and easing possible tensions as the murder trial that sparked a racial reckoning worldwide gets under way. And for that, the city would pay them each $2,000.

With jury selection set to start Monday in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer facing murder charges in the death of George Floyd, city officials, nervous about the spread of misinformation that could lead to uprisings and violence, hoped to employ the power and reach of social media as a best defense. 

The community response was swift – and the retraction came as fast as the criticism. 

Minneapolis’ strategy was “a terrible execution” of a good idea, said Karen North, a professor at the University of Southern California’s digital social media program.

“I agree with the premise, their idea is absolutely correct because false information spreads very quickly, especially in the digital world, and inflammatory information spreads even faster than the sedate boring truth,” North said. “But, Minneapolis did it in a way that makes it look like propaganda.”

Andrea Jenkins, a Minneapolis council member whose ward is where Floyd was killed, believes in the reach and role of social media, while acknowledging using the term “social media influencers” was “a poor choice of words.” 

“It was never about disseminating any propaganda,” Jenkins said. “It is a reality that social media is a dominant part of our society, so it’s not really clear to me why the city shouldn’t be communicating in this manner.”

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People occupy the intersection of Chicago Ave and E. 38th Street before the curfew went into effect at 10PM in Minneapolis, MN on Monday, June 1, 2020. The intersection is the location of Cup Foods and the location where George Floyd died in police custody on May 25, 2020. (Photo: Jack Gruber, USA TODAY)

This debate over using technology comes as Minneapolis is feverishly taking precautions against potential uprisings around the trial. Chauvin has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder. Opening arguments in the closely-watched trial are set to begin March 29.

Floyd, who was Black, was killed May 25 after Chauvin, who’s white, was seen on a widely-circulated smartphone video pinning his knee against a handcuffed Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd said he couldn’t breathe. Chauvin and three other officers seen in the still inescapable video on social media were fired.

The incident sparked global unrest against racial inequities and police brutality.

The protests, conversations and calls for making authorities more accountable through various social media platforms because of Floyd’s death, reignited the hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter, into a worldwide call for justice. As a result, the organization was nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.

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