Friending man's best friend on Facebook, or following the Twitter feed of someone who has yet to take a first breath, let alone speak a first word, is becoming more common, with social-network users increasingly creating profiles to speak for loved ones who can't speak for themselves.
More than a quarter of American social-networking users -- 28 percent -- have created accounts on Facebook, Twitter or some other social-networking site on behalf of a furry friend or a tot, according to a survey commissioned in late June by coupon site Couponcodes4u.com.
And while 68 percent of those who made accounts abandoned them within the first week of creation, another 43 percent said the pages were intended to share the personalities of their pets and children with a world that would never know them otherwise.
Andy Barr, marketing director for London-based Markco Media, which conducted the survey, said the results shook his notions that Americans are "less fluffy" than citizens of the United Kingdom when it comes to pet care.
"I was absolutely staggered. I never thought for one minute that the number would be that high." He said similar surveys were being conducted around the globe to see how the Americans stack up against other countries.
Barr said most respondents are like Pittsburgh resident Joe Shirk. Shirk created a Facebook profile for his 2-1/2-year-old Havanese, Renfrew, a few years ago simply to share the dog's overwhelming cuteness with the rest of the world.
Shirk said he created the profile the same time he made his own to show off photos of Renfrew frolicking with other dogs or "Photoshopped" onto the grass of Pittsburgh's Heinz Field, without bombarding his own personal page. Renfrew has 103 Facebook friends so far.
"I'm 71 years old, my grandchildren are in their 20s, and my children are in their 40s. My dog is like my kid now," Shirk said.
For Pittsburgh's Heather Long, a Facebook profile is an opportunity to show the fluffy sides of her three pit bulls -- BoBo, Diamond and NeNe -- and to promote positive images of the breed.
She created the profile for BoBo, a therapy dog, two years ago when they began making friends while he traveled with her during long flights to calm her anxiety. He's added 44 friends since then.
"You meet a lot of people when you take a pit bull on a cabin of a plane," she said.
While Long described BoBo's personality as a combination between that of "a dumb high-school jock" and Disney's ever-glum Eeyore character, a quick glance at the page shows an introspective, politically active side of the pooch. One of his recent posts delves into the complex relationship between humanity and the rest of the animal kingdom.
"The perception humans have about other animals often says something about their perception of other humans who are not the same as them. In that way, I feel dogs are more evolved than humans. There, I said it," reads the post.
Long said a profile for her Jack Russell terrier, Niqua, is a work in progress.
"My boyfriend is working on it. She has a lot more to say, she's a little more complicated," she said.
Pet profiles proved to be more popular than profiles for children, with 16 percent of respondents conceding they had created a pet profile compared with 12 percent for children.
However, profiles created for children have garnered much more media exposure, particularly those created for those not yet born. A furor ensued in May after Facebook removed the popular profile of Marriah Greene, a fetus whose 3-D sonogram image and posts about Mommy's activities had attracted more than 200 followers.
Today, Marriah's baby face graces a Facebook page "sponsored" by her parents rather than the profile she had before. According to Facebook terms and conditions, anyone under the age of 13 should probably do the same. Pages allow people to "like" the subject, rather than "friend" them as in profiles.
The social-networking company uses an investigative team to search for fake profiles and technology that flags potentially fake accounts for review.
Even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was restricted to creating a page to post comments on behalf of his white Puli, named Beast.
"Facebook is based on a real-name culture. This leads to greater accountability and a safer and more trusted environment for the people who use our service. It's a violation of our policies to use a fake name or operate under a false identity, and we encourage people to report anyone they think is doing this," said a Facebook spokesman via email.
Although Twitter's rules prohibit impersonation "intended to mislead, confuse or deceive others," it leaves the door wide open for pages created on behalf of pets and children.
David Teicher, a columnist for Advertising Age in New York, created a Twitter account for the daughter he and his wife are expecting called (at)lilaerocles. The account is named after his own Twitter account, (at)aerocles.
Created in April to share the progress of the family's newest member, the (at)lilaerocles account has informed people who were out of the loop about the pregnancy, shared news regarding the baby's sex and even posted a link to a picture of her future nursery. After "lilaerocles" is born in October, Teicher said he would continue to update her progress through the account, and with careful consideration that he is representing someone who may someday review his work.
"With pets, there's really no harm or concerns; but when dealing with people, you have privacy issues to think about," he said. "You never know who's reading and following or how people will react, so we'll most likely re-evaluate the situation when she's born."
Whether a profile is made on behalf of pet or child, Teicher said creating online personas for silent, yet uniquely expressive loved ones, was all part of human nature.
"Humans relate to humans because that's what we know. Consequently, it's natural to project our own type of consciousness onto babies and animals, and want to relate to your pet or baby in the same way we relate to ourselves and peers. So we try to give them a human voice and projecting what we think or hope the baby or pet is thinking onto those accounts," he said.
"Social media is just the vehicle to express what we all like to think is going on in their mind."
(Contact Deborah M. Todd at dtodd(at)post-gazette.com.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)