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By David Bachelor, PhD
The news this week is that the “news” is not enough. I suspect this process began when the media began to supplement the five “W”s with adverbs about veracity. From this self-inflicted wound, it appears the real purveyors of information to the general public are not newspapers or broadcast journalism but “social influencers” (or just “influencers”). The e-magazine Influencer Marketing Hub defines this term as, “Influencers in social media are people who have built a reputation for their knowledge and expertise on a specific topic. They make regular posts about that topic on their preferred social media channels and generate large followings of enthusiastic, engaged people who pay close attention to their views.”
According to the Washington Post, social influencers were responsible for the public’s perception that the failure of renewable energy sources caused the blackouts in Texas during February’s snowstorms. The Post acknowledges that there was truth in the influencers’ social media posts but “. . . the recent explosion of falsehoods related to the Texas power outages highlights how climate science and related topics like renewable energy are a ripe target for online propaganda.”
Since propaganda is usually associated with government information campaigns, there is a sense of irony in the February 28 edition of the Washington Post concerning the decision by the Minneapolis City Council to hire social influencers “to boost city-approved messaging, specifically to tamp down on misinformation and ease tensions.” The Council’s decision relates to the impending trial of the Minneapolis police officers charged with George Floyd’s death. Council spokesman Casper Hill explained the hiring of influencers, “to make information more accessible to communities that ‘do not typically follow mainstream news sources or City communications channels.’” The communities targeted by these hired influencers are Minneapolis’ Black, Hmong, Latino, Native American and Somali population.
Social influencers are present in several Biblical narratives. Their influence on judicial proceedings can be seen in the Gospels during the trial of Jesus. The government (Pontius Pilate) wanted to acquit Jesus of the charges against him (Luke 23). The social influencers (the chief priests) did not want this outcome and they convinced their followers to demand the government execute Jesus (Mark 15:11-13). As the saying goes, the rest is history.
This article began with the observation that the “news” is not enough. As the Gospels show, this is not news. “Influencers” have always been present in society, and Minneapolis’ decision to hire influencers to lead their followers down a path favorable to the interests of the city (rather than hope these same citizens do their own research) shows the current Council can read the signs of the times. However, the real question is whether the interests of the city has any bearing on the truth, and the guilt or innocence of the officers involved. Remember Pontius Pilate’s question when confronted by influencers, “What is truth?”(John 18:38). Truth did not win on that day. Let’s hope for a better outcome in Minnesota.