What your social media says about you

Do you have a facebook account?  Twitter?  Instagram?  The number of social media platforms available in 2020 is astounding.  People are posting about their lives from the moment they wake up in the morning until they go to bed at night.  Even those that aren’t fans of social media find this platform useful for things like keeping up with family members that live across the country or finding out what their old college roommate is up to.  Picking up the phone and giving someone a call to “chat” is a thing of the past.  We reveal more of ourselves than ever on our social media pages, but we aren’t forming closer relationships as a result.  Perhaps the reason for this is that we post on our social media only what we want people to see about ourselves.  This is problematic, but not just because we are cheating ourselves out of the benefits of face-to-face interactions and real relationships with the rest of the world.  Can the “throwback” picture you posted of yourself running a half marathon ten years ago cause you to lose your disability benefits?  Could a post about the hike you recently went on with your friends hurt your pending application for disability benefits? 

            If you’re currently receiving disability benefits, you might already be aware that the Social Security Administration regularly conducts “continuing disability reviews,” to determine whether those receiving ongoing disability benefits have experienced “medical improvement” and are no longer entitled to receive benefits.  How often SSA conducts a review of your claim will depend on the type of impairment for which you receive benefits and the likelihood of medical improvement with regular, appropriate treatment.  If you’re wondering whether or not SSA is looking at your social media page for red flags as a part of their review, you should know that they might very well be.  Currently, SSA states that it only views social media pages on a selective basis, when fraud is already suspected.  In 2019 the Social Security Administration began seriously considering an increase in the use of social media monitoring for the purpose of rooting out fraud in the disability benefit system.  SSA also considered the use of social media when reviewing new applications for disability, primarily as a way to corroborate medical evidence in a claim.  Disability advocates responded in outrage right away.

            Rooting out fraud in a system funded by taxpayer dollars is important.  But think about what you post on social media.  Is it an accurate reflection of how you live your life from moment to moment?  Or is it what you want people to see?  Think of someone who is receiving disability benefits for debilitating back pain as a result of an injury.  Perhaps on an average day they require the assistance of a family member to do simple things like prepare their meals or even just to get dressed.  But like any person with a chronic condition, they may have the rare and elusive “good day.”  So on their facebook you may not see the full story – that they cannot bend down far enough to tie their own shoes or that they can no longer go for a run, hike with their grandchildren, do their own grocery shopping, take out their own trash, etc.  The list goes on and on. On their facebook you may see the triumph on their face on the one day out of an entire month when they are able to make it to the park for a walk or the one day out of an entire month that they were able to attend a neighborhood barbecue.  No one creates a photo album or scrapbook commemorating the “bad” days to look back on – on the other hand, we carefully document and preserve the “good” days.            

Recently the Commissioner for Social Security, Andrew Saul, publicly provided that SSA will not be making any changes to the rules with regards to social media and disability determinations.  While Social Security will not currently be taking a more widespread look at social media to make their determinations, it is important to know that they are already looking, even if only on a selective basis.  In this day and age you can never be too careful about the kind of information you provide to the world on the internet.  The lesson here is not to immediately delete your social media accounts and never share your “good” days on the internet.  The lesson here is one that applies to using social media in general – it is a lesson of caution and awareness. 

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