Social media personalities attract large audiences thanks to the authenticity of individuals posting homemade videos or articles online. But many of those online influencers have signed up with advertisers and even political campaigns with the aim of, well, influencing their followers. YouTube now requires creators to disclose whether a video contains a paid promotion – but what about political promotion?
The Biden administration has launched its “Help is Here” tour across the country to promote the Democrats’ recent COVID-19 relief bill. The first and second families may be hitting the road to talk to Americans, but these days digital life is just as important as real life – so there had to be an online version of this magical mystery tour. The Biden administration is teaming up with popular social media creators and websites to promote the American Rescue Plan Act.
Social Media Influencers Do What They Do Best
Axios reports the plan is part of a “digital media tour,” which began with the White House offering finance influencers interviews with two National Economic Council (NEC) directors. The site states, “The goal was to have [the influencers] help persuade Americans — and their representatives in Congress — to support President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan.”
The administration will reportedly use this approach to publicize future proposals, with reasoning as described by Axios:
“The idea is to find influencers who’ve earned the trust of dedicated audiences. They come with a set of unique followers on platforms like Instagram that the White House would be unable to reach through its own social media following.”
Some of the channels that have discussed involvement, according to Fox News, are NowThis, Budgetnista, The Financial Diet, Her First 100 K, The Money Coach, Investing Latina, and Zero-Based Budget.
Lynnette Khalfani-Cox of The Money Coach informed Liberty Nation that she was not aware of the program prior to our conversation and that, to her knowledge, she had not been invited to participate. However, several of these influencers did indeed post interviews with the director and deputy director of the NEC, David Kamin and Bharat Ramamurti.
Each influencer Q&A that LN was able to view focused primarily on the practical details of how their followers could apply the bill. It should be noted that none of these interviews included any questions relating to criticisms that have been raised about the new law, nor remarks that would show it in a negative light.
So, the key question must surely be: Is this a White House attempt to reach people more directly with information about how Americans can use the law, or simply a propaganda campaign utilizing influencers with built-in audiences? Either way, it may signal the direction that official communication is likely to take in the coming years.
Minneapolis Scorned for Attempt to Hire Influencers
It does not appear that participants in the “digital media tour” have received payment from the Biden administration. As the Minneapolis city council recently found out, having influencers spread your message can be complicated, especially when money is involved. After all, answering an interviewer’s questions is rather different from paying someone to spread approved messages around the internet.
Leading up to the trial of Derek Chauvin over the death of George Floyd, concerns have been raised about the possibility of violence. Minneapolis authorities sought to combat these worries with plans to hire six influencers with large local followings to curb “misinformation” and assist in “de-escalation” by posting “city generated and approved” messages, with payment of $2,000 per participant. The program was soon scrapped after the efforts were labeled propaganda.
According to WCCO CBS Minnesota, the initiative was intended to target black, Native American, Somali, Hmong, and Hispanic communities in particular. In a statement to the news outlet, the city council said:
“The City is collaborating with social media partners to share public information with cultural communities and to help dispel potential misinformation during the upcoming trials … The goal is to increase access to information to communities that do not typically follow mainstream news sources or City communications channels … It’s also an opportunity to create more two-way communication between the City and communities.”
Social media activist Toussaint Morrison was reportedly unconvinced that the city’s intentions were pure. “The key word here is ‘city-approved,’” he told WCCO, “what do you think the message is going to be? It’s going to be pro-city, it’s going to be anti-protest.”
It stands to reason the authorities would contact only those influencers sympathetic to their cause. Sarah Davis, executive director of The Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis, remarked: “It really reflects that they know there’s a lack of trust between community and city institutions and that’s real…”
The council was forced to apologize and cancel the program, though some denied any wrongdoing. “It was never about disseminating any propaganda,” said Councilmember Andrea Jenkins. “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.”
Undoubtedly, the George Floyd case is an emotive issue and far more of a political hot potato than COVID relief checks, and the public responses to each of these two government initiatives reflect that.
Political communication and persuasion via influencers have been gaining steam for some time, with reports emerging before the 2020 election that political activists were paying social media personalities to promote their candidate. The younger generations have gained a reputation for being able to spot inauthentic content online – it certainly looks like that’s a skill they’ll need.
Read more from Laura Valkovic.