(CNN) — Minneapolis had floated a plan to hire six social media influencers to help share information during the upcoming murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer charged in the death of George Floyd.
But the city scrapped the idea Monday after it came under withering criticism from the public that the effort was aimed at influencing public opinion.
“This was never about trying to change or persuade the public opinion on any particular message but it was about getting important information out quickly and in an equitable way,” David Rubedor, the city’s director of neighborhood and community relations, said at a public safety preparation meeting.
He emphasized that the word “influencer” did not accurately represent the effort.
“We are sorry and acknowledge that we will have to work to repair the harm that has been caused,” Rubedor said in a statement.
The Minneapolis City Council approved the plan Friday, authorizing $1,181,500 in city funding for contracts with various community organizations throughout the trial. The plan included hiring the influencers, defined as having a “large social media presence,” and would have required them to share “city generated and approved messages,” the plan stated.
Under the program, which targeted Black, Native American, Hmong, Somali and Latino communities, each influencer would have been paid $2,000 to counteract misinformation that might arise during the trial.
Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence, a group that supports families in Minnesota that have lost loved ones to police violence, denounced the social media influencer program as a method to “control the narrative” around the trial.
Founder Toshira Garraway told CNN the city should instead be allocating resources and reaching out to families that have been directly impacted by police violence during Chauvin’s trial.
“These are the people that have some of the answers that they are looking for from the community,” she added. “We don’t trust them because they have broken the trust of our families, they have broken the trust of our communities.”
According to the Minneapolis City Council website, the engagement strategies will provide information and insight to communities “that do not typically follow mainstream news sources or City communications channels and/or who do not consume information in English.”
Chauvin was the officer seen in widely circulated videos kneeling on Floyd’s neck last May as he repeatedly said he could not breathe. Outrage over Floyd’s killing sparked nationwide protests last summer against police violence and racial injustice.
Chauvin, who has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, is set to stand trial next Monday. The other three former officers charged in the case, Thomas Lane, Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao are scheduled to go on trial together in August.
The city is still moving forward with other initiatives to reach various communities during the two trials.
These include more frequent cultural radio programming, as well as offering contracts of up to $175,000 to community organizations that can be activated “during periods of heightened community tension,” Gretchen Musicant, the Minneapolis health commissioner, said at the Monday meeting.
The social media influencer strategy was part of the city’s Joint Information System that will be in effect throughout both trials. The goal of the operation is to “create multiple channels (on the ground and online) to share timely and relevant information to the public as well as receive input and feedback from the community,” according to a city statement.
City spokesperson Sarah McKenzie told CNN there was a “misunderstanding” in the public about the motivation behind the influencer initiative.
“We recognize that we’re in an environment where there’s a lot of distrust of government and everything that we’ve gone through in the city in the past year,” she said.