Social Security may use your Facebook and Instagram photos to nix disability claims

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  • The Social Security Administration may start screening your Facebook and Instagram posts to evaluate your disability claim
  • Currently, the federal agency uses them to investigate fraud cases, but it’s planning to expand that usage
  • Social media is considered a poor measure of a person’s life, so the practice raises data privacy questions

Careful what you post online. The Social Security Administration 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 Monday, 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.

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Posts can be taken out of context

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, for example, and many users set their profiles to private, preventing strangers from viewing them.

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.

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Paul Young, a disability attorney with Young Marr and Associates, said one of his clients had to defend such a post to a judge who brought it up at his disability hearing. Disability claimants typically receive benefits at the hearing level. The client said the photo, which showed that he went on a hike, wasn’t representative of his typical lifestyle and reported that he was bedridden for three days afterwards. “You want to be careful because you don’t want something to be taken out of context,” Young said.


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