In the midst of Super Bowl Sunday when everyone from brands with multi-million-dollar commercials to a porn-site streaker in pink spandex to the novel coronavirus was trying to go viral, an unlikely star emerged into infamy on Twitter: Ottawa Public Health.
The public health agency in Canada’s capital city is no stranger to online fame, having won kudos throughout the pandemic for its easy-to-read graphics and relatable “hello fellow kids” pandemic sex tips.
Following Sunday’s big game, which saw the ageless wonder Tom Brady and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeat the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs 31-9, Ottawa Public Health tweeted out its congratulations in what appeared to be a mistake.
The tweet appeared to be a placeholder, and someone named Bruce appeared to be in a bit of trouble for not updating it to reflect the Buccaneers’ victory.
It quickly went viral, with many users sympathizing with Bruce’s seemingly honest mistake.
The apparent gaffe circulated Twitter widely Sunday night and was even earnestly covered by the CBC Morning Monday — with a shout-out to poor Bruce.
As the tweet went viral Sunday, Ottawa Public Health took advantage of the tweet’s ubiquity to get some actual pandemic health messaging in there, with reminders to wear a mask and stay away from people.
After all, saying “wear a mask” is basically the public health version of putting a link to your Soundcloud after a viral tweet.
Wait, Bruce isn’t actually real?
But all was not as it seems. On Monday morning, the agency was quick to note that the tweet really was just a joke, and the much maligned Bruce doesn’t actually exist.
They acknowledged the goal of the initial tweet was to slide in some actual pandemic messaging behind a pretty good Twitter joke.
And because this is a public health agency, Ottawa Public Health used the opportunity to teach us all a lesson about online misinformation. In a Twitter thread, the agency pointed out the telltale signs of social media posts that may not entirely be what they seem.
“Misinformation has consequences that go far beyond the wellbeing of ‘Bruce,’” one tweet read.
The agency has an entire webpage devoted to sussing out online misinformation around public health and science.
So if there are three things you can take away from Super Bowl Sunday, it’s that Tom Brady will probably play football forever, don’t trust everything you read online and please, please, please wear a dang mask.