Lately, there seems to be a lot of buzz about social media and disability claimants. This is likely because of a Social Security Administration proposal to evaluate whether social media can be used by disability examiners and judges to assess consistency and supportability of evidence in a claimant’s case. The full SSA FY2020 Budget Request can be found HERE, the paragraph about social media is on page 26.
What does this mean for disability applicants? While we at OBL completely oppose this measure and find it unfair, ultimately, not much has changed. Social media has always been problematic for disability applicants. Even if adjudicators can’t use posts to make determinations, why would an applicant risk putting something in print that could conflict with their claim for disability?
There are a few reasons why social media usage could sink a disability claim, especially if SSA starts using it to assess credibility:
Reason #1 – Shiny Happy People. It is generally true that people only post positive things on social media platforms, especially Facebook. Reading the constant posts about how “perfect” everyone’s life is can even cause depression and anxiety. Why do people focus only on the good rather than telling it like it is? There are a variety of reasons, but not wanting to share personal information or be seen as a “downer” are probably the biggest factors. If a person who is truly disabled posted everything they actually felt, the post would look something like this:
So instead, someone, who is in pain and likely depressed about the ways their life has changed, will find positive things to post about. This can make it appear to an outsider that everything going on in their life is good and there’s no problem. That’s not the message we want to send to SSA when filing for disability.
Reason #2 – Conflicting Information. Let’s looks at a hypothetical disability applicant, Grandma Gabby. In the function report she completed for SSA, she talks about the impact Rheumatoid Arthritis has had on her ability to interact with her family. She writes about not being able to enjoy spending time with her grandkids. She posted this in her Facebook profile:
What you don’t see is that her hands were hurting so badly that her daughter-in-law had to actually prepare the ingredients, put the pan in the oven and take it out. Grandma Gabby was able to sit at the table with her grandchildren and watch them as they decorated the cookies with sprinkles and icing. After 15 minutes of sitting with them, she had to stand up and walk around to relieve stiffness. If a disability examiner or Administrative Law Judge were to see this post, would they take the time to get all of the background information from Grandma Gabby about what really was going on? They likely would not and may see it as a conflict with her statements about being unable to spend time with her grandchildren. They may even use it to discredit medical evidence since her post shows she is able to function. Even though SSA isn’t (currently) supposed to monitor posts for determinations, there may be no such rule for therapists and other participants that work with Grandma Gabby. If a copy or reference to a post ends up in the file, then SSA can address it.
Reason #3 – Capability. Participating in social media shows you have abilities and skills outside of what you may have reported to SSA. For years now, Social Security judges have asked clients in hearings if they use Facebook. SSA does not allow judges to review social media to make determinations at this time, so why do they ask this question in hearings?
Let’s look at Grandma Gabby again. She has alleged that she is disabled due to Rheumatoid Arthritis, with one of her main symptoms being severe hand pain that limits her ability to use her hands and fingers. If a judge asked her if she uses Facebook, she has to answer honestly as she was sworn in before testimony. If she answers yes, will the judge use the fact to discredit her? Will the judge use the fact that she is able to use her fingers to type, turn on the computer, and click the mouse to conflict her allegation that she has limited functioning due to RA? Maybe. A good representative would have her to clarify that she is only able to do these things for less than five minutes each day, and would argue that 5 minutes per day doesn’t equate to being able to work full time. Still, why take the chance?
Social media participation can be dangerous for a disability applicant, or even a current recipient, regardless of whether the proposal to allow SSA to monitor accounts is passed. Please note that we are not suggesting that applicants stay off of it entirely. Sometimes social media is the only way for individuals with disabilities to stay in constant communication with family and friends and feel like they are a part of the world around them. However, it is important to consider how Social Security adjudicators may view posts or online activities when claimants do choose to engage on social platforms. Our advice to Disabled Dan and Grandma Gabby is simple; post about hardships every now and then, write as accurately as possible, limit the number of posts and keep all profiles set to private so that only family and friends can view and engage. The disability process is a long and difficult one; do not take chances online that could jeopardize your claim!