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Minneapolis drops plan to hire influencers to counter misinformation during Chauvin trial

Officials in Minneapolis said they are abandoning earlier plans to pay social media influencers to share information approved by the city and target misinformation during the upcoming trial for Derek Chauvin, the former police officer charged with killing George Floyd.

The city had planned to pay six "influencers," or area residents with a large following and considered "trusted messengers," to send "city-generated and approved messages," a Minneapolis spokesperson previously told The Hill. Under the proposal, the influencers would have been paid $2,000 each.

But the city's director of communications, Greta Bergstrom, and the city's director of neighborhood and community relations, David Rubedor, said in a Sunday letter to elected officials that they were canceling the strategy, NBC News reported.

Rubedor noted during a city council meeting on Monday that the plan "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."

"For this strategy, we use 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," Rubedor said, adding that city officials are seeking additional methods of "reaching all of our residents."

The influencers would have been chosen by Minneapolis's Neighborhood and Community Relations staff and specifically targeted members of Black, Native American, East African, Hmong and Hispanic communities. They also would have been tasked with sharing updates on disruptions to public transit or city services during the trial.

But the plan prompted immediate criticism, according to multiple reports. Some activists expressed concerns that many community members would have doubted any person funded by the city to share accurate information.

City spokesperson Sarah McKenzie told NBC News that the intent of the program was "about keeping everyone in the city safe, sharing timely, critical, public information and recognizing not everyone gets their news from local TV or the newspaper."

But McKenzie added that the city is taking into consideration the criticism from residents.

"The city is listening to the feedback. We're in a tough spot," McKenzie told NBC News. "We realize it has been a horrific year for people in our city and there is mistrust in the government."

The city saw mass protests over the summer after the May 25 death of Floyd, a Black man who died after Chauvin knelt on his neck during an arrest. Video of the arrest sparked protests across the country and internationally calling for widespread police reforms.

Chauvin faces murder and manslaughter charges in Floyd's death. His trial is set to start next week in Minneapolis.