Health department's Super Bowl Twitter 'gaffe' was actually a PSA about online misinformation

Ottawa Public Health Twitter Gaffe
Posted at 10:37 AM, Feb 09, 2021

When the public health department for Ottawa, Quebec, Canada appeared to screw up a tweet congratulating the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Twitter did what it did best. Several verified users poked fun at the government-backed account and “Bruce,” the employee who appeared to be at fault.

However, the joke was on Twitter the whole time.

Ottawa Public Health later revealed that it made the gaffe intentionally in order to spark a discussion about the spread of online misinformation.

The incident began Sunday evening when the department’s Twitter account, @OttawaHealth tweeted an empty graphic moments after the clock hit zero in Super Bowl LV.

“WHAT AN AMAZING #SuperBowlLV!! Congratulations to the (*Bruce, make sure to put the winning team's name here),” the department tweeted.

The post was retweeted more than a thousand times, including by several verified Twitter users.

“Well Bruce is in trouble. #SuperBowlLV #LOL #YouHadOneJob #WhereIsBruce,” one verified user said.

“We’ve all been Bruce,” another verified user said.

But many of those users failed to miss key signs that the tweet had been fabricated.

Why would Bruce even have an image ready to tweet with directions as to where to put the logos — wouldn’t that just be extra work? Why didn't he just pre-make two graphics — one for each team — ahead of time? And why did the department not immediately delete the tweet when they realized the mistake?

In a follow-up tweet, Ottawa Public Health said the image was meant to spark a discussion about the spread of misinformation on social media. The department added that social media users may have noticed that the tweet was sent from a different scheduling platform than the account typically uses — something that is visible to users who view tweets on Twitter’s website.

Ottawa Public Health says online misinformation is on the rise, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The department has published an entire section on its website dedicated to educating the public about social media best practices.

“Be critical of what you see online. Misinformation has consequences that go far beyond the wellbeing of "Bruce"," the department wrote.