In effort to save Belfast dog, supporters light up Facebook, Twitter

Lennox fans use social networks to raise global support for the dog

Even as the dog at the center of a global animal rights battle was put to death on Wednesday, social networks proved to be a massive weapon for protestors.

Lennox, a seven-year-old black dog who lived with his family in Belfast, Ireland, became the center of a hailstorm of media attention and worldwide protests after dog wardens seized him because they considered him a pit bull type of dog and, thus, a public danger. Pit bulls are banned under the U.K.'s Dangerous Dog act.

The dog's owners say Lennox was a mix of American bulldog and Labrador, but Belfast dog wardens called him a "possible pitbull type."

The dog, first taken from his owners in 2010, was put down today after numerous court battles and great public outcry.

And while the dog's owner, Caroline Barnes, lost the battle to save her dog, she was far from alone in her protests. Lennox's supporters took to social networks, like Facebook and Twitter, to put out pleas for people to join them in their appeals to keep Lennox alive and relocate him outside of the area.

The dog's saga spread far, lighting up social networks.

Protestors organized by No-Kill New York, an animal rights group, created their own Facebook page. And a Save Lennox page also was created on Facebook, garnering nearly 114,000 "likes."

Many people filled their own personal Facebook posts with pleas for their online friends to sign petitions and join the protest. Others took to Twitter to vent their frustrations and ask for support.

"Destroying a dog that had no history of aggression is folly and shames society," tweeted @DUPleader.

And @AliciaLaraLA tweeted: "Always wanted to go to Ireland but after all this with #LENNOX, Belfast is one place I'll never be visiting..."

Brad Shimmin, an analyst with CurrentAnalysis, noted that social networks not only served to build protests to try to save Lennox but gave people concerned about the situation a place to gather and share their frustrations and stories.

"Services like Twitter have grown beyond destinations to literally become communications infrastructure, the means by which we interact with our peers, our friends, our heroes and our brands," said Shimmin. "Twitter, in particular, has become a means by which we're able to participate in vast but short-lived communities, not just within our limited circle of friends. When we see something on television that excites or enrages us, we turn to Twitter, connecting with others who are sharing this same experience."

Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, said people are increasingly quick to turn to their favorite social networks whenever they're upset or excited about something.

"Social networks have now become deeply intertwined in the fabric of life," he added. "It's to the point where if someone has some issue or problem they want to vent about, they don't call their friends or neighbors, they immediately run to Facebook or Twitter."

In a similar vein, users took to social networks in March to vent anger at conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh after he verbally bashed a Georgetown University law student for supporting birth control.

In part because of social pressure, Limbaugh's show at the time lost more than 20 advertisers, including Allstate Insurance, AOL, Citrix, Quicken Loans and Sears.

The month before that, a chorus of outrage on Twitter and Facebook helped to push officials at the Susan G. Komen For the Cure to rescind their controversial decision to cut funding for Planned Parenthood programs.

"The immediacy and global reach of these social sites has indeed driven appreciable social change, be it raising the awareness of worthy causes or empowering the disenfranchised," said Shimmin. "Twitter and Facebook are simply mediums for a message -- the continuing realization of the simple desire to hear and to be heard."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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