The Social Security Administration (SSA) may start screening your Facebook and Instagram posts to evaluate your disability claim. At the moment, the SSA’s disability investigations units and the Office of the Inspector General use social media posts to flag fraudulent activity. However, in the 2020 budget proposal released in March, the SSA said it’s planning to expand that usage to review and evaluate applicants for disability benefits. SSA spokesperson Mark Hinkle said the work is “ongoing.”
“We are evaluating how social media could be used by disability adjudicators in assessing the consistency and supportability of evidence in a claimant’s case file,” the agency said in the 2020 budget.
Though the SSA hasn’t yet outlined how it might use social media in screening applicants, the proposal has raised eyebrows — and data privacy concerns. For one, unless the agency plans to partner with social media companies for back-end user data, it’s hard to imagine how federal disability examiners could even authenticate profiles to evaluate applicants for disability. Social media profiles aren’t tied to Social Security numbers, and many users set their profiles to private, preventing strangers from viewing them.
Furthermore, social media is often a poor measure of a user’s typical lifestyle, given that Facebook or Instagram users often post only content they want to present to their community. A user with a disability claim may not share how he deals with his disability on a daily basis, but he may share photos from the recent vacation he took to the Caribbean or from the weekend hike he went on.
One disability attorney reported that he had to defend such a post to a judge who brought it up at his client’s disability hearing. The client said the photo, which showed that she went on a hike, wasn’t representative of her typical lifestyle and reported that she was bedridden for three days afterward. “You want to be careful because you don’t want something to be taken out of context,” the attorney said.
Images and videos also have technical problems: A user may have posted a throwback photo to when she was water-skiing in 2016, but the publish date may make it appear the photo is from after she filed her claim. In a world with increasingly sophisticated image-altering technology, it’s also getting ever more difficult to authenticate the veracity of a photo.
“You can’t take someone’s Facebook or other social media posts at absolute face value,” said Jennifer King, director of consumer privacy at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School. “They present an extremely narrow slice of someone’s life.”
King noted that using social media when evaluating disability claims comes with a lot of questions and can be highly irresponsible. She said a person’s posts should be used only to flag cases that need follow-up with in-person research. Otherwise, it seems like a faulty system because people have such varying ways of using social media. Said King: “It’s not a recording of your life.”
By: Joyce Trudeau of Premier Disablity Services, LLC®