Rantz: WA Dept of Health defends mocking a death, then censors critic

Feb 6, 2023, 6:40 PM


A man drips eye drops into his eyes. (Photo by Angelika Warmuth/picture alliance via Getty Images)

(Photo by Angelika Warmuth/picture alliance via Getty Images)

The Washington State Department of Health (WADOH) mocked the death of a Washingtonian in a tone-deaf tweet. After criticism, the department triple-downed on the offensive message and even censored a critic.

An unidentified King County resident reportedly died from an infection linked to a brand of over-the-counter eye drops contaminated with bacteria. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now investigating multiple brands of eye drops linked to at least 55 infections in 12 states, which even led to instances of permanent vision loss and hospitalization. WADOH thought this news was worthy of a cute meme on Twitter a day later.

WADOH tweeted the Culture Club lyric, “Do you really want to make me cry?” along with an animated GIF of Boy George dancing. The tweet included a link to a WADOH release encouraging Washingtonians to stop using EzriCare Artificial Tears. It is investigating a cluster of antibiotic-resistant infections it says could be linked to the product. It was in incredibly poor taste.

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DOH tripled down on offensive tweet

The tweet was in obvious poor taste: Someone just died from an infection linked to eye drops. However, when the tweet was criticized, the social media account first defended the message a little over 30 minutes later.

“Our sincerest apologies. We absolutely meant no disrespect to the people or families affected by this product. We are here to help the public pay attention to this topic, and to stay aware of the situation,” the tweet read.

Users responded harshly. “Fire whoever runs your social media,” one user tweeted. Another remembered, “These were the same clowns making dance videos during the peak of COVID deaths.” Another said, “This is way too flippant. A man died.”

Then, WADOH’s account censored a critical tweet, hiding it from the thread. When a user hides a comment on Twitter, it is not automatically shown to the public. Instead, you have to click on the specific tweet, then look for an icon indicating hidden replies. This is a common practice that WADOH employs when it is criticized.

It most recently censored dozens of tweet replies to its message for “transmasculine people with a cervix” for Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. After I pointed it out, the organization unhid the comment. This also follows its standard practice of unhiding a comment when the organization is publicly called out.

After criticism continued, WADOH again defended the offensive tweet.

“We feel the need to correct misinformation. At this time, investigators have not confirmed that the individual used the EzriCare drops listed in the recall. Our intention is to make people aware of this ongoing issue to prevent more injuries,” WADOH said, though no one mentioned EzriCare in the replies.

This was an avoidable controversy

WADOH, like many other government agencies, thinks it needs to be “hip” and “edgy” (by the standards of a 53-year-old bureaucrat) to attract the attention of a younger social media audience. Many times, they embarrass themselves with cringe-inducing memes and messages that try painfully hard to be relevant. They’d be better off focusing on actual messages of importance; no one follows WADOH on Twitter because it posts cute or funny memes.

In an effort to appeal to a younger audience, WADOH ended up making light of a death. It was a self-inflicted error. It obviously didn’t mean to make fun of a death, but that was the end effect. WADOH was too focused on trying to be clever, rather than being thoughtful.

That WADOH didn’t simply delete the tweet shows you how stubborn it is. It is not interested in informing the public and it certainly doesn’t care when a conservative criticizes it. That merely earns it social currency amongst the woke crowd it thinks it is engaging. But most of its tweets are garnering less than a half dozen likes, so it’s not even doing the engagement part well.

WADOH did not respond to a request for comment.

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Rantz: WA Dept of Health defends mocking a death, then censors critic