In Ancient Rome, magistrates were accompanied by burly men who carried symbols of their right to inflict punishment. These were bundles of wooden rods called fasces, from which the word ''fascist'' emerged in the early 20th Century, to describe those who believed that violence was an appropriate way to obtain and hold power.
Those who debate such matters often convince themselves that political violence is an exclusive characteristic of the right, forgetting one of the most famous statements of China's Chairman Mao, who wrote in 1938 that "every Communist must grasp the truth; political power grows out of the barrel of a gun".
Murderously totalitarian regimes usually begin with seemingly minor violence by bands of unarmed thugs who beat up opponents. In the 1930s, Fascist Italy had its Blackshirts, while Nazi Germany had its famous Brownshirts. Today, Venezuela's 'Colectivos' continue this tradition. Punishment beatings are usually a reliable indicator of fascist political tendencies.
The wooden rods mentioned above were also used to protect Roman magistrates from the anger of the mob. Our word today comes from the Latin mobile vulgus, meaning the fickle and often violent crowds on city streets.
Mobs are a recurrent and often violent feature throughout history all over the world - culminating in the extraordinary ''Terror'' of Enlightenment France in 1793, when the most sophisticated country in Europe tore itself apart. It followed the urging of Robespierre, the architect of the French Revolution, who advised: "If the basis of popular government in peacetime is virtue, the basis of popular government during a revolution is both virtue and terror."
Today, 'mobbing' has a more technical term. It describes the coordinated online activity of cyber-bullying. This involves repeated actions intended to harm and upset the target. Online mob rule is an increasing threat to mental health that has very real consequences in the real world. The tragic death last weekend of Caroline Flack in the UK is leading to more calls for ''strong'' legislation to curb social media.
Cowards hide in crowds, confident of their anonymity as one among many. Anonymity lies at the heart of much that is wrong with online activity, and especially social media.
To their credit, the social media giants have tried to deal with this problem. Facebook - which estimates that about 5pc of its accounts are fake - reported in 2019 that in the previous six months it had removed 3.2 billion fake accounts. Google+ tried to make all users use their actual names between 2011 and 2014. This has been bitterly resisted, leading to the so-called 'Nymwars'. The activities of the group 'Anonymous' that emerged around 2008 is another testament to this resistance.
Anonymity is claimed to promote openness and the freedom to be expressive and informed. Such claims are not wrong, though we can't pretend not to notice the terrible cost of anonymous online bullying. Current research suggests that in the US, suicide ideation and attempts among adolescents have nearly doubled since smartphones became common in 2008, making suicide the second leading cause of death for individuals between 10 and 34 years of age there.
On the other hand, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that anonymity is one of the highest human rights - "a shield from the tyranny of the majority".
It seems from this that it will be fruitless to call for ''strong laws'' to limit the harm of social media, because these will limit its use and usefulness.
This genie can't be put back in the bottle. We can't change the internet. We can't stop bots and trolls. Instead of trying to change the unstoppable, perhaps we can all look to change ourselves. Perhaps we can adopt new online behaviours and beliefs - what we used to call ''good manners''.
Perhaps each of us can strive to be kind to make the online world a better place?
Being online is like a new language, a jumble of words, but with few ''rules'' of grammar. Evolving a new online language will be a difficult balance. Too few rules will make us less easily understood. Too many rules will bring us back to the tyranny of ''political correctness'' - one of the favourite tools of the online mob. Difficulty is no reason not to try to improve behaviour.
Human beings can choose their behaviour. The histories of terrorising mob behaviour is not the whole story. Destiny does not always belong to ''the strong''.
British politics coined the term ''wets'' to describe the opposite of the strong. Slavery, serfdom, poverty, illiteracy and high infant mortality rates have all been swept away by kindness and compassion for our fellow creatures. All the great human success stories seem to stem, not from the ''strong'', but from those who were compassionate, kind and unafraid to be seen as weak.
Perhaps we can learn and teach ourselves to be weaker and wetter - not ''stronger''.
In 1948, after the slaughter of World War II which left Europe in ruins and on the brink of starvation, the United States set up the Marshall Plan. It paid the equivalent to $100bn in today's money to rebuild both the victor and the vanquished. It was reasoned that nations that were poor and humiliated would be susceptible to further political turmoil of the type that started the two world wars.
It is ironic that compassion saved Europe from a self-destruction that was born of rigid and heartless ideologies. It is also ironic that Europe has re-emerged as one of the great powers of the world by trying to peacefully dissolve the national boundaries that previously cost the lives of millions in two world wars. Such wetness.
Ireland, at the time of the foundation of the State, was a country teetering on the brink of being run by the ''strong'' men who had emerged from eight years of armed struggle. Many post-colonial countries settled uneasily into a post-independence period - often involving extended periods of military intervention to secure the new country. We too easily forget that Ireland opted for the ''wet'' option of establishing an unarmed Garda Siochana in February 1922. They endured the Civil War of 1922-23, during which many Garda stations were attacked, while hundreds of early members were physically assaulted.
Miraculously just one, Henry Phelan, was shot dead on November 14, 1922, in a pub in Mullinahone, Co Tipperary. An Garda Siochana emerged still unarmed and increasingly trusted and accepted because of yet more reckless wetness.
Online bullying has many of the same characteristics of terrorism, namely victimisation of the few to send a message to the many by exploiting the media as an amplifier.
Like terrorism, the extremes of online bullying have the potential to provoke repressive over-reactions by governments who feel compelled to respond with ''strong'' laws and rules.
Instead of playing into the hands of the mob by adopting strong controls, perhaps the online world would become a safer place if each of us resolved to adopt a self-imposed code of weak, wet ''rules'' for social media. If enough people resolved to use their own name; to tell the truth; to avoid name-calling; to only write what would be acceptably said face-to-face; to avoid writing in anger; and to be conspicuously respectful of other opinions.