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Your Social Media Activity Could Impact SSD Benefits

  • Someone snaps a photo of you holding your new granddaughter — of course, you want to show her off! Or maybe a tai chi class helps alleviate your stress and pain, and you think that’s something worth sharing. So you do the natural thing for 2019, and post to Facebook. Or Instagram. Or Twitter. Or Snapchat.  


    Whatever your social medium of choice, if you receive or are in the process of applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, you may want to pause before hitting that post button and think hard about the possible ramifications of every image.


    That’s because your friends and family may not be the only people perusing your online activity. Currently, the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses social media to investigate cases of suspected fraud. But the SSA, along with the current presidential administration, is actively working on a proposal that would enable them to use people’s online posts in a much expanded capacity.


    According to written statements to Congress by Acting Social Security Commissioner Nancy A. Berryhill in March 2019, her agency is “evaluating how social media could be used by disability adjudicators in assessing the consistency and supportability of evidence in a claimant’s case file.”


    In this light, that image of you with your grandchild in your arms, or holding a tai chi pose, could be misinterpreted as “conclusive proof” that you have the ability to perform work activity and are not disabled. And that’s bad news for your SSDI application.


    How Does the SSA Determine Whether I Qualify for Disability Benefits?


    In order to qualify for SSDI benefits, you must demonstrate that you have an injury or disability that severely impairs your ability to function; you are unable to do the work you did previously; and there are no other types of jobs you could manage despite your limitations. You must also have accrued a certain number of work credits through past employment and paying social security taxes. Every case goes through a rigorous review process before being approved or denied, and you don’t want to do anything that will jeopardize your claim.


    According to Jennifer King, director of consumer privacy at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, as quoted by CBS News, disability benefits are a small proportion of the amount the SSA pays out each year — about $150 billion annually as opposed to about $950 billion to retirees. Yet the agency is particularly focused on rooting out fraud among its disability recipients.


    Problems with Using Social Media to Identify Fraud


    The SSA’s initiatives to use social media to detect fraud is problematic on several levels.

    • While it may seem naive to some, it’s reasonable to think that when you set a social media profile to private it’s exactly that. If SSA evaluators gain access to such accounts, it could very much feel like an invasion of privacy.
    • Social media accounts are not tied to any proof of identity. Anyone could set up an account in another person’s name, and the SSA would not know the profile is not authentic.
    • A social media account is not necessarily an accurate snapshot of a person’s life. If anything, people like to show off the positive and happy moments — instead of their actual limitations, suffering and pain.
    • “Throwback” photos, so popular these days, could cause issues. The picture could be from years ago, but the publish date may make it appear new.


    If you receive social security disability benefits or have applied for them, it’s wise to post to social media with extreme caution. A seemingly innocent photograph might possibly derail your claim and could be the difference between whether your case is approved expeditiously, delayed, or denied altogether.


    It’s always a good idea to detox from the world of social media and instead make human connections that will help your disability claim, such as consulting an experienced social security disability lawyer to assist in gathering the necessary medical evidence to establish a well-supported claim.