If you’re applying for Social Security disability benefits, you don’t want to leave open questions about whether you are truly disabled. In order to qualify for SSDI or SSI, you must have a physical or mental impairment that causes you to be completely disabled from working and which is expected to last for at least a year. If the Social Security Administration concludes you are not completely disabled from working, it will deny your claim for benefits.
For some time, the SSA’s Office of the Inspector General has been reviewing social media posts in order to flag possibly fraudulent claims. In the agency’s 2020 budget proposal, however, it announced that it is considering using social media posts when evaluating initial disability claims.
“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,” reads the proposal.
Should the SSA review claimants’ social media accounts?
Presumably, the SSA envisions it being relatively easy to obtain social media accounts and check them for evidence. The agency would be looking for evidence that the claimant is not completely disabled.
Such an effort could be problematic for several reasons. First, as CBS News pointed out, it’s not clear how the SSA could validate a social media account as belonging to a particular applicant, since social media generally doesn’t track to your Social Security number. If disability adjudicators associated the wrong account with a claim, it could introduce false information into the adjudication.
Also, some users set their social media profiles to be visible only to friends and family, not the general public. Would the SSA ask these users to friend the agency or change their settings to public?
More fundamentally, it’s not clear how accurate a picture social media activity paints of someone’s disability status. Many users — perhaps the majority — post only positive things on their social media accounts, which can give a false impression of wellbeing. In any case, it wouldn’t be representative of a person’s daily struggles.
One disability attorney interviewed by CBS said that his client had to defend a photo a disability judge found on her social media. The photo indicated she had gone on a hike, which the judge thought implied she was more physically able than her claim indicated. In reality, the post wasn’t representative of her typical experiences — and she was bedridden for three days after the hike.
The SSA may be opening the door to all sorts of ambiguity and confusion if it begins using social media posts as evidence. And, the effort could increase already massive processing delays.