Finland enlists social influencers in fight against Covid-19

Government advice sent to bloggers, rappers and writers to get to those not reached by traditional media

Finland has enlisted social influencers in the government’s efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic, arguing that they are just as useful as mainstream media in a crisis when it needs to inform the population fast, clearly and accurately.

“We can reach a large part of the public in Finland through official communications and traditional media, but it’s clear the authorities’ messaging doesn’t always reach all population groups,” the government communications director, Päivi Anttikoski, said.

“The aim of this cooperation is to provide better access to information for those who are difficult to reach through traditional channels. As far as we know, Finland is the only country in the world to have defined social media as ‘critical operators’,” – along with doctors, bus drivers and supermarket workers.

The project is a joint initiative by the office of Finland’s 34-year-old prime minister, Sanna Marin, a Helsinki social media consultancy, and Mediapool, a network of media companies tasked with helping ensure citizens’ access to reliable information at all times.

A consultancy, PING Helsinki, edits government announcements so they fit easily into a social media format and sends them to a network of 1,500 influencers on its books, who are free to use words and images as they like, according to Politico.

“It’s about supporting social media influencers in sharing reliable information related to the coronavirus, and helping ensure that the right information is available on all channels at the right time,” the company said. “By working together, we can prevent the spread of false information.”

PING said the goals of the project were set in 2018, when they sounded “far-reaching, even distant”: developing tools to enhance the credibility of social media influencers and securing reliable information in crisis situations. “We wondered if it was bit of an overreaction,” it said. “What crisis situation might we face?”

The company has also published a list of social media does and don’ts during the coronavirus crisis, including recommendations such as stop and think before sharing; review content critically; distinguish fact from opinion; check facts and never share false information.

Emmi Nuorgam, a writer, journalist, blogger and columnist with a large social media following, told the Finnish public broadcaster YLE that the pandemic “highlights how panic can spread on social media, and how difficult it is to curb if the authorities’ message does not get to where people actually are”.

Nuorgam said many social influencers “now reach the same number of people as, say, newspapers or commercial radio channels. Some audiences are insanely big. Many may have tens or hundreds of thousands of followers.”

A factual video about the coronavirus produced by a Finnish YouTuber, Roni Back, interviewing a government minister and a number of health experts, had over 100,000 views within two days of launch, she said. “People get their information differently nowadays,” she added.

Contributor

Jon Henley, Europe correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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