In every society there seems to be a person designated as the scapegoat. That is, one who bears the blame of others. On the Day of Atonement the ancient Hebrews would take a live goat over whose head Aaron confessed all the sins of the children of Israel. "The goat, symbolically bearing their sins, was then sent into the wilderness." Because of the history of the term, it is especially appropriate when discussing this process of projecting the potential faults of a society onto the least capable individual, thereby ensuring that all members have the security of superiority.
In other societies we have the witchhunt, the village idiot, the celebrity tabloids. It appears to be a process by which the members of the society project their own fears and inadequacies onto a mutually designated individual. Perhaps by having a common enemy to ridicule, the group finds common ground that otherwise would not exist. What is especially fascinating to me is the evolution of the individual to respond to this peer pressure and 'become' the witch or the village idiot. It is a sort of degradation of the individual. When the society you belong to finds you funny, intelligent, quiet, outgoing, whatever, it is a powerful subconscious motivator to live up/down to the expectation. I have seen it a thousand times and have experienced it.
It happens on online forums consistently - almost to the point of being agonizingly predictable. Why? Why do people participate in it? Is it a means to correct a problem? Does focusing energy and attention on a scapegoat lessen their impact on the society or does it make their behavior more prevalent? It actually appears that this process of scapegoating someone is nurtured and fostered with great focus and energy. That is why the question is so compelling to me. What is your take on this process, both online and in virtually every society?