What is a Mob?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 January 2020
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A mob is, quite simply, a group of gathered people. In legal usage, the term can refer to a variety of different issues, including organized criminal groups and more random mobs. Psychologists have puzzled for years over the behavioral means by which decisions are made in a mob or large group structure; although the behavior of mobs is not always a negative thing, the actions of violent mobs have occasionally changed history, and frequently resulted in terrible crimes.

There is a fundamental difference between random mobs and an organized crime group known as a mob. Organized crime is widely outlawed throughout the world, although some experts suggest that criminal gangs and mob-like crime groups have increased tremendously in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. A mob, on the other hand, may come together for a specific purpose, but is not usually part of a multi-faceted overall criminal plan. Drug trafficking, prostitution rings, and racketeering are criminal charges often related to organized crime, while looting, disturbing the peace, and assault are more commonly associated with random mobs.

There is often some confusion between protests and mobs. In many regions, the right to protest is protected through law, while the right to assemble as a mob is either simply frowned upon or criminalized. A protest may seek to change or overthrow a law, but it does so through established, legal, and peaceful methods.


The association of mob behavior with negative actions dates back to Ancient Rome, from which the term originates. Mob rule, also known as ochlocracy, was deemed by ancient social philosophers to be a poor form of government, since, like tyranny, it acted in favor of special interests over the people's needs. Generally, the actions of mobs can be defined as a group of citizens choosing to override a law, whether it is a social maxim or codified rule.

Mobs certainly have an bad reputation throughout the pages of history. The French Revolution, the Salem witch trials, and numerous lynchings in 19th and 20th century America are all associated with this type of gathering. Experts have tried for generations to explain why a person who is normally peaceful and law abiding will turn to violence or crime when involved in a mob; one of the major theories suggests that it is the faceless existence of a large group that allows a person to commit crime or atrocities in a more anonymous manner.

Though not all mobs are violently-minded, some versions often skirt the edges of the law. One example is the culture of flash mobs, which has gained considerable popularity through social networking websites. Flash mobs require a group of people to show up at a specific place, day, and time, to take part in a silly or unusual prank or activity, such as pillow fights or synchronized dancing. Despite having relatively peaceful purposes, flash mobs are often broken up by law enforcement out of fears for public safety.


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