“There is only one mob in human history,” the author Peter Quinn once observed. In Elias Canetti’s exhaustive 1960 taxonomy of the forms this mob will take, Crowds and Power, Canetti places no special emphasis on the one that is perhaps most familiar to us today: the “baiting crowd.” This is the mob that forms in the pursuit of a social reversal. It seeks to take the mighty down to size.
By Canetti’s day, that mob had evolved from the crowd that gathers for a public execution into the newspaper reader who pores over the gruesome details of one. The medium changes, but human nature doesn’t. And if Canetti had anticipated Twitter, he might have foreseen the modern iteration of the baiting crowd: the outrage mob.