How Easy It Is to Set Up a Lynch-Mob

Recently, a letter appeared in a local paper from a resident of an estate near the University of Limerick.


It described an appalling incident in which drunken students teased a small dog by repeatedly throwing a ball onto the road until eventually, the dog was run over and killed.

The story made the national papers, national radio and sparked a wave of vitriol against the perpetrators as outraged citizens came to the posthumous defence of the trusting little animal so cruelly duped by the privileged university brutes for their own twisted pleasure.

However, there was one problem with the story that the Limerick Leader ran.  Despite inflammatory headlines (Dog lured to its death by University of Limerick students in drunken game), the letter writer had never actually witnessed any incident involving students and a dog.  The letter stated that her brother-in-law had seen what happened.  However, the brother-in-law has so far not come forward, and neither have the owners of the dog, reputedly murdered so cruelly.  For that matter, neither has the driver who was reported to have run over the little dog as it chased the ball thrown by the jeering, drunken students.

Now.  I’m not saying the story is untrue, but what I am saying is this: so far, not a single witness has confirmed it in public.

Despite this, a lynch-mob mentality sprang up, including a ludicrous Facebook page entitled Petition to expel the UL students who lured a dog to its death.  You’d have to wonder what motivates whoever set up that page.

Not to be outdone, The Journal ran a similarly unquestioning piece, also accepting without corroboration that the details presented by the Limerick Leader were accurate, and were duly rewarded by a flood of comments calling for an assortment of punishments to be inflicted on the unidentified assailants in the unconfirmed incident.  A rather ugly sub-text in some of the comments was a hostility towards third-level students, and this was what led me to wonder about demagoguery in general.

The papers and all saw an easy opportunity to inflame public opinion and they grabbed it.  After all, who doesn’t love a trusting little dog chasing a ball?  They were rapidly followed by the Irish Examiner, who ran a similarly unquestioning article entitled Drunk youths lure dog to death.  The source? an unverified letter to the Limerick Leader by someone who had witnessed nothing.


Yet, the journalistic community are the very first ones to remind the rest of us how careful they are to double check their stories before publishing.

It reminded me of the unfortunately-named movie, Wag the Dog, where an unscrupulous PR man invents an American hero soldier missing in a non-existent war and stirs up a fanatical campaign to bring him home safe and sound.

Of course, it might well turn out that there was a dog, and a bunch of drunken students, but that is not the point.  As matters stand right now, there is no evidence to support the assertions made in the letter to the Limerick Leader and yet they went ahead and published anyway.  Now that’s populist demagoguery for you, and while the story today is about a dog, who knows what story about an alleged crime by an immigrant might not be flavour of the week next time?

Let’s learn the lesson, folks.  Don’t whip up rage until you have facts to support you.

I think professional journalists call it “standing up the story” but what would I know?





The story grows fresh legs with the arrival of a new letter, unsigned and clumsily written, which purports to be from a student who was present.  According to this version, the dog followed the students’ ball onto the road  where it was struck by a van which failed to stop.  The Limerick Leader say they are 99% certain that the letter is genuine and they hope the student will come forward to be identified publicly, but given the hysteria stirred up by the ludicrous Facebook campaign, it would probably be unwise of that student to put their name in the public domain, for fear of being attacked by a member of the lunatic fringe.

If the letter is true, it puts a new and worrying complexion on matters because the implications  are that a routine mishap was misconstrued to imply sinister intent, and furthermore, that the papers went with that construction, despite having no evidence to support it.

What will happen if somebody comes forward and confirms that they were the student who kicked the ball?

Will the witness, who so far has not come forward, now emerge and state that this student acted with malice and that the incident was not simply an unfortunate and common  mishap?

Will the student so accused seek in turn to vindicate his or her good name via the courts?

My guess is that this thing is going nowhere, but meanwhile, a parochial non-story has now gone worldwide, sullying the name of our town for no good reason, since there is still not a single shred of evidence that the dog’s death was deliberate.



60 thoughts on “How Easy It Is to Set Up a Lynch-Mob

  1. The whole thing seriously creeps me out. People were actually demanding that all UL students and the University itself apologise for the death of the dog (which, based on what I’ve read so far, I’m pretty sure never happened) while others were shouting about ‘extreme punishment’ for the unknown students as soon as they are found guilty, as if they are presumed guilty until proven innocent…

  2. knocking the lynch mob mentality, kinda Ironic considering the whole Examiner billboard

  3. Dunno which story has gone international, that’s besides the point anyway?

    one day for lynch mobs and next day not…

    One has to wonder what motivates a person to do that?

  4. Not at all, they’re big boys and girls and can stand by their editorial decisions… I’m sure they’ll survive.

    What bugs me is when you slate someone for forming a ‘lynch mob’ but not two days previously being in the thick of one yourself…

  5. That’s a pathetic attempt at whataboutery. Stay on topic. This post is about the alleged UL dog incident. If you want to comment on something else, do it in the appropriate place.

  6. Really?

    Considering this post, as outlined in the header, seems to be about lynch mobs and the motivation behind them… The UL dog story seems be almost secondary…

    Anyway, I’ll be on my way!

  7. If you want to comment on the UL dog story, you will be welcome and your words will be published exactly as you write them.

    However, as usual on this site, any attempt to hijack the thread will be stopped immediately.

  8. Really…

    I thought it was, as outlined in the header, about lynch mobs.. Its almost as if the UL story is secondary…

    But anyway, I’m off to spread my ‘whataboutery’ elsewhere…

  9. Apologies for double post, thought 1st didn’t go through.

    Delete if you want or not.


  10. Do they teach journalism at the University? Then they could offer a few of the newspaper people a basic course in journo ethics. Rule 1: check your sources.

  11. I’ve been scanning the internet for information about any dog corpse being found in the area, but so far nothing has shown up.

    I think this story smells and I wouldn’t be surprised if this story was fabricated in an effort to gain attention.

  12. I am just wondering whats new in this that got you exercised Bock.
    Our media run stories every day literally every day of the week that are based on nothing more than a rumor at best.
    peoples lives have been destroyed casually, and then a tiny correction or clarification is published months later, similar to a child saying oops after spilling the cornflakes.
    Press freedom is in great peril (look at the UK) and they have no one to blame but themselves.
    Its their sloppy journalistic practices are the greatest threat to the very freedoms they wish to hang on to.
    As for mob culture, it used be called rabble rousing, and the print media in particular are masters at it.

  13. After sleeping on it, I think I see where he’s coming from.

    You know those multi-millionaires who own the Iona Institute? The ones who are trying to prevent life-saving treatment for pregnant women, and who want to outlaw same-sex marriage?

    Well, apparently, they’re the victims and I’m the oppressor.

  14. So alfredo questions something and is answered back with a mob mentality on an article of mob mentality. OH THE IRONY!

  15. I did sign the petition when I first saw it; emotions overruled logic. However, yes, there is something fishy about the whole thing and I wouldn’t sign it now.

    But as UL graduate, IF there is proof that UL students did do this, I would want them kicked out of the college too. This is beyond the usual bins on fire/jumping on cars nonsense. If this happened, it’s a special kind of twistedness that deserves punishment, and I don’t make any apologies for saying a student who did this should be expelled.

    But as of now, we have no proof, just the Leader’s own agenda for good headlines and agitation of Castletroy residents who hate students.

  16. I think Roisin above has really hit the nail on the head.

    Without being nasty to people (I may have been in the other mentions of the story – borne from frustration) I think emotion has indeed overruled logic in this case.

    Fair play Roisin for having the integrity to say so.

    As for the exchange with Alfredo – I think that highlights a big thing in the story overall. The willingness of people to talk about things that this story is actually not about and the tendency for far too many to allow exchanges which begin with good reasoning to diverge into (in some cases) personal attack.

    By simply stating that there is an investigation ongoing and that it’s unfair of some to immediately presume the letter as fact should not be met with accusations of support for whoever did this.

    IMO It’s not unfair to think that it is students responsible – but to attack the SU and UL (including giving out the names and email addresses on national media of individuals who hold no responsibility for this whatsoever) and calling for the expulsion of unnamed and unidentified individuals doesn’t sit well.

    At this point, it’s irrelevant who did this – UL’s reputation has been tarnished forever simply because action wasn’t taken immediately and when action was taken, it was through a channel which has already influenced the outcome of any investigation.

    In the meantime, people have made libelous and wildly dangerous comments along the way.

    The event is absolutely shocking and is absolutely deplorable in the eyes of anyone with any sense of empathy and I hope that whoever is responsible will be caught and punished appropriately.

    Bock – thanks for a well written and unassuming piece.


  17. Tony. One point. It remains to be established whether anything at all happened. The Leader say they have a letter from a witness, which is well and good, but so far, the hysteria has been based on no evidence whatsoever.

  18. Absolutely Bock. I know some are comfortable tabling that as a possibility but my own opinion there is that, from an investigative point of view, it should be assumed that it did happen.
    We know how these things go – if the investigation turns out that something did actually happen and they get them, I hope they get their just punishment. If it turns out that someone is sick enough to make this up then the closing of the investigation will be due to the Gardai saying that they “found no foundation for the claims” or some other related language.

    FYI: UL have just FB posted this update:

    “Update Regarding Possible UL Student Involvement in Reported Animal Cruelty Incident

    The University of Limerick is unreservedly opposed to any form of animal cruelty and is fully committed to the implementation of the law relating to such despicable acts.

    The University regrets the distress this reported incident has caused to many people who have been upset by what has been reported. The University community shares their concern that a dog could be mistreated in such a manner leading to its death.

    The reported incident did not take place on the University campus. It occurred in a private housing estate that is not on University grounds.

    The University was the first to report this matter to the Gardai (Irish police) and to request that this be investigated.

    As yet there are no precise details of the incident, there is no verified proof of the identity of those involved and no confirmation that they are students of the University.

    If it is established that students were involved they will be subject to a formal disciplinary process where the penalties include suspension and expulsion from the University.

    The University has sought to contact the person who highlighted this issue and she has not yet responded to our request for information that may allow our investigations to be progressed.

    The University is continuing to work closely with the Gardai and to encourage anyone with information to report the matter to the relevant authorities.

    The University is working with the UL Students’ Union to identify any students who may have participated in this incident so that any possible student involvement can be reviewed under the Code of Conduct and any disciplinary action can be initiated.

    The University will continue to investigate this matter until anyone involved is identified and appropriately sanctioned by the University and the Gardai.

    The University unambiguously condemns any act of animal cruelty and will continue to do all in its power to prevent such acts.

    The University regrets any negative impact that these allegations have had on the wider community as well as on our students, alumni and staff.”

  19. Well said Bock,

    My eyebrows were raised straight away too. The van driver hasnt even come forward and you would think, being a victim of these ‘students’ (many people rent houses in Castletroy, how could they be so sure that they were students from UL) tactics and you would think having knocked down a dog after such an event the driver would like to exonerate himself in some way.

    Fishy indeed.

    Thanks for the read, Im glad someone of sterner wordplay was able to say something about it.

  20. Rather like the alleged kidnapping and gang rape over a six day period of a young mother in Limerick. No one reported the kidnapping, no one reported her missing. Who minded her child/ren?

    No facts, loads of hearsay and allegations, howls of indignation. Lynch mob mobilised.

  21. There seems to be a lot of posts knocking your reasonably stated opinions on various forums. They all seem to be from the same person stylistically and also uncannily similar to the mentioned petition. Have you read the actual letter. I wonder if there are any similarities.!!??

  22. Bock, I’m confused as to how you used the Iona Institute in one of your earlier replies

    After sleeping on it, I think I see where he’s coming from.

    You know those multi-millionaires who own the Iona Institute? The ones who are trying to prevent life-saving treatment for pregnant women, and who want to outlaw same-sex marriage?

    Well, apparently, they’re the victims and I’m the oppressor.’

    I never mentioned victim or oppressor…. Nor have I any interest in a catholic think tank, which in my opinion, has no place in discussions on legislation in this country.

    And Tony if I may say, I have not resorted to ‘personal attacks’.

    That’s all I have to say really.


  23. Alfredo — You’ll have to bring us your head, for this riddle-speaking is leading the conversation nowhere.

  24. Well, FB has seen fit to ban me for 12 hours. Over a specific post which was in no way in breach of any FB policy. Not threatening, bullying, violent etc.

    Just completely reasoned.

    Although, now I know who owns the libelous petition “get your pitchfork” FB page.

  25. The ‘Petition To Expel the UL students who lured a dog to its death’, Visit this on Facebook and see how the English language is being slowly but,irretrievably,eroded by the text generation, If I may respectfully suggest Bock,I doubt very much if you have anything to worry about from that direction. But I’m sure you have realised this already.

  26. It’s not libellous, since nobody was named. But I’d be most interested to know who you consider the owner of that page.

  27. The page title may not be libelous but there are other statements made which are.
    I won’t name the person as I don’t have distinct proof until I know if the complaint being upheld meant that the complaint was by the page owner.

    In other words, I wont say until I have proof….

  28. Tony, I wouldn’t dream of asking you. I’m just saying that I’d be most interested to know, which is true. I would.

  29. Maybe offline I would share my suspicions!

    Let’s just say for now that I suspect that it was someone called Mary who has been quite vocal elsewhere until this page was created and been quite quiet since….

  30. I am like the guy who didnt know what a tracker mortgage
    is. I have no idea what the above posts are about,
    Bock has it all gone off topic or is it just me?

  31. I didn’t really see anyone blaming the entire University of Limerick or all of the students. In my humble opinion, the hysteria revolving around the general victimization of UL has gone a bit OTT. I agree with this article, however. My initial reaction was one of disgust because there are way too many actual incidents of animal cruelty in this country, most of which go completely unpunished. The Leader definitely dropped the ball here and, if this incident turns out to have been a fabrication, the letter writer should be identified – if possible – and brought to account for raising the hackles of civilised people.
    In terms of lynch mobs, maybe we don’t have enough of them. I don’t know, I’m just a drunken pirate. I actually hope the story is untrue. We have enough of this kind of shit happening in this country and it would be nice to know that, at least this incident didn’t happen.

  32. Lynch mob’s ?…Journos’ involved should be prosecuted at least…then lynched..the fool’s .

  33. Liked me old avatar better btw….not that I’d xpect u to give a shit….and dare I say it ..LOL .

  34. How long before it happens here?

    A suspected rapist and murderer has been buried alive in the grave of his alleged victim by enraged villagers, according to reports.

    Santos Ramos, 17, had been identified by Bolivian police as a possible culprit in the death of 35-year-old Leandra Arias Janco.

    More than 200 residents took the law into their own hands, reportedly seizing the teenager during the woman’s funeral earlier this week and burying him alongside his victim.

    The villagers in Colquechaca, in the Potosi district of Bolivia’s southern highlands, then blocked a road to prevent police and prosecutors from reaching the area, according to an official.

    A witness who would not be named said Ramos was tied up before being thrown into the open grave, which was then filled with earth.

    Lynchings sometimes occur in rural and poor parts of Bolivia in the absence of a heavy police presence.

  35. I have read all of the comments,apart from, where the fuck is the van, seemed to be the only comment worth thinking about. Tangents are like tributary’s the all end up in a big mouth.

  36. I agree; this story may be true, however the reality is that it feeds into people’s own prejudices and many people do not like 3rd level students and their antics and are only too willing to believe stories about students’ bad behavior. It will be interesting to see if those investigating come up with any leads. Let’s hope people who might want to dispense rough justice to these students pause to consider that this tale may in fact be only a shaggy dog story.

  37. People will believe anything. There’s still no evidence that the dog’s death was deliberate, if indeed anything at all happened. But based on a single letter making uncorroborated assertions, this entire thing has gone viral. It’s insane.

  38. Sorry for the late reply. The posts in question were on the Facebook petition site and the article in the Limerick Leader. You outed one person who posted a reply. A PhD student who claimed to have been fired unfairly. Pierce was his name I think. Very poor English used by someone who’s a doctoral student in Sociology!!?? Also a person on the Leader who cut and pasted an argument from a forum discussing a incidence of cruelty that happened in America 9 weeks previous.
    BTW To answer the headline, it’s very difficult it seems to organize a lynch mob in Limerick. With all the technology and social media you would think it would be a doddle.

  39. Sorry for using outed, an incorrect term, meant to be used for as another example and lost in the edit.

  40. wonder what the lynch mob thought of the guy on radio last night. what with him giving his girlfirends dog ” a root up the hole” live on air

  41. Bock, I fully agree with your post.
    It is too often that an allegation made online without any supporting evidence is taken up by a group of keyboard warriors who, under the motto “down with that sort of thing”, jump all over it creating a mountain out of a non-existent molehill.
    Sure you only have to look at this story: which led to an ill-spirited attempt to destroy an organisation which, despite all the (false) allegations and “expert testimony” to the contrary actually went out to achieve what they set out to do and more.
    The evidence speaks for itself:

  42. Hi Evert. Good to see that you managed to get your website working again. Good disaster recovery there.

    The site says that your company operates under the same terms as a charitable trust, which is not quite the same thing as saying it is a charitable trust.

    Could you clarify this? Is it a charitable trust or is it not?

  43. Bock, you might want to get out the old reading glasses.
    Point 1 on the FAQ:

    “Is Disaster Tech Lab a charity? Yes; Disaster Tech Lab is a “Charitable Trust established by a Trust Deed”.”

  44. Evert,

    Well spotted. There’s nothing wrong with your eyesight. My vision is indeed more 50-50 these days than 20-20, but as with so many other things in life, when one sense deteriorates it often happens that another sharpens to compensate.

    I digress.

    What I was really wondering is whether your charitable trust is registered.

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