Find social recognition

Social media and the addiction to recognition

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About the author

Christine Kammerer, political scientist M.A., alternative practitioner (psychotherapy), freelance journalist and trainer. Professional background: Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, Federal Agency for Political Education, German Child Protection Association.

by Christine Kammerer



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Social media such as Facebook and Instagram skilfully play on the keyboard of a typical human characteristic: our desire for social recognition. This need is as ingrained in us as hunger or thirst. It motivates us in the best sense to do good deeds, to ingenious inventions and to all kinds of extraordinary achievements, for example in sport. However, the striving for recognition in its extreme form also leads to many behaviors that, from an individual or social point of view, tend to be assessed negatively. For example, when people want to stand out at all costs and go to extremes with their self-portrayal on the Internet.

This article explains where such an urge can lead in extreme cases, why our brain longs for recognition, when one can speak of a "normal" or "healthy" need and how one can compensate for it in other ways without harming oneself and others .

Tragic example: DrachenLord1510

A YouTuber named "DrachenLord1510" provoked the Internet community so much that, in addition to his veritable fan base, an even larger community emerged - the so-called "haters". This is how people are referred to in the Internet language who say or write unpleasant things about someone or who criticize their performance.

DrachenLord1510 called for massive reactions with his statements, for example by calling the Holocaust a "nice thing". This earned him numerous hateful comments on his videos. Many users also made fun of the YouTuber in their own posts and mocked him. He, in turn, reacted with aggressive statements and thereby aggravated the whole thing more and more. Drachenlord was finally massively bullied online and the scene of mutual aggression increasingly shifted to the real world - a village of 50 people near Nuremberg. In the heat of the moment, the Dragon Lord had revealed his address and literally invited his opponents to a personal argument. Since then, they have repeatedly committed criminal acts around his place of residence such as illegal demonstrations, disturbances of the peace and trespassing, which affected the entire village. But how did it come to that?

Social media trigger the reward center

As early as 2014, a trend study by the Ford Motor Company found that 62 percent of the adults surveyed feel better after positive reactions from social media. This has now also been confirmed by brain research: Notifications from our networks cause the happiness hormone dopamine to be released in the brain's reward center. In other words, we interpret these messages as recognition and therefore they make us happy. Children and young people are even more susceptible to it.

In the past, this type of confirmation was sought at work, in a circle of friends, in a partnership or in the family. And of course, we've also made an inappropriate comment before or shown an embarrassing photo around. At that time, however, such a lapse was quickly forgotten. Today, however, we also have other sources at our disposal to satisfy our need for recognition, namely social networks such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Every post can be divided X-fold there. It inevitably reaches people for whom it was never intended and the network does not forget anything: All misconduct will remain forever.

How much appreciation is healthy?

The desire for social recognition is a basic need and therefore initially completely healthy and normal. People of all ages want to be seen, to be perceived, to feel understood and accepted. We generally assume that this need is still present as we get older, but that it can be better compensated for. Most people, however, also agree that a healthy level is not infrequently exceeded, especially on the Internet. For example in the case of Dragon Lord. Limits are exceeded when the need is greatly exaggerated and even aggressively articulated. So exaggerated and aggressive that instead of approving, it provokes disapproval. The Dragon Lord goes to great lengths to get the approval of others, but does just the opposite. But that doesn't seem to deter addicted Internet users: Even the shitstorm, an avalanche of the worst abuse criticism, is still rated as a “reward”. And Dragonlord goes very far for this form of recognition - he not only ignores the needs of the people around him, but harms himself.

Which form of recognition we prefer and how far we go for it can be traced back to our early childhood experiences. They cause our reward system to be activated to a greater or lesser extent. This shows that children with secure and secure attachment structures responded more strongly to positive affection. On the other hand, children from dysfunctional family structures with strong narcissistic tendencies have difficulties in making such distinctions and often act freely according to the tried and tested motto "Much enemy, much honor".

Conclusion: Acquiring social skills in the real world

Children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the real or perceived recognition they get from social media. You have to help them to recognize this need clearly and to free themselves from it a bit by questioning it and learning to recognize when it becomes an end in itself or even an addiction.

You should learn not to use external success or the opinions of others as a measure of personal happiness. However, this also requires the ability to even recognize which types of relationships are good for them, how real give and take is shaped and how one builds and maintains stable relationships that are characterized by appreciation and respect. Above all, they need healthy self-confidence and benevolent and accepting relationships. Children and young people can only acquire such knowledge and skills within the framework of social groups - in the real world. Be it at school or, for example, in sports. And if they are not integrated there, then you have to make sure that they are integrated. Because only real life offers them suitable learning fields to channel and compensate for their need for recognition.

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