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Using Social Media as Evidence in Determining Social Security Benefits

  • By:The Law Center for Social Security Rights
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Social Security Administration adjudicators can see social media accounts of people who have applied for or receive disability benefits. It is not known how much these accounts are looked at as part of determining whether one qualifies for disability benefits. We just simply do not know. However, it is likely that it is used at times as there is proposed policy, which has not yet been passed, specifically outlining that social media can formally be looked at when deciding claim for benefits.

The thinking behind this policy is that social media evidence falls under the providence of “credibility evidence” in a Social Security case. That is, when a person is presenting their case, you want to be believable. Hobbies such as motor cycle riding or group activities such as singing in the church choir are often measured and weighed in determining credibility. Judges use your activities of daily living (“ADLs”) as a test of credibility or non-credibility. For example, there is a recent case that a person’s report of severe mental disability was contradicted by her own descriptions of ADLS, including water sports and outdoor activities and thus the judge found the claimed impairment-related symptoms were not credible.

This might seem unfair as the nature, amount or frequency of the activities a person may perform does not necessarily translate into being able to work. That is, activity performed on a sustained basis, 5 days per week, 8 hours per day, with scheduled breaks as determined by the job. The critical differences between ADLs and activities in a full-time job are that a person has more flexibility in scheduling the former than the latter, can get help from other persons and is not held to a minimum standard of performance, as she would be by an employer. One of my favorite cases states that a person is not required to “vegetate in a dark room excluded from all forms of human and social activity in order to be found disabled.”

Another reason it seems unfair to judge a person by their social media is that the photo might not be representing what is really going on. Who can see pain in a photo? What if that person had a personal care assistant helping them bathe and dress but he/she is not in the photograph? Then there are individuals who have “invisible disabilities” or conditions don’t have obvious external signs. Aside, what exactly does “disabled” look like? How a person appears in photos tells you very little about their physical and mental health. Just because you see someone doing something doesn’t mean they can do it on a regular basis, and you can’t see how much pain they’re in or the price they pay afterward.

Stories and studies have shown that people often present themselves in the best possible light on social media, smiling even when they’re in pain and struggling. People with disabilities may share the joy of having a good day, joining their family for a backyard barbecue or even going on vacation.  It is unlikely that they would post medical appointments, treatments and bad days.

For now, if you have a claim currently pending before Social Security, you really should not post pictures or comments that appear to represent someone that is more “active” than they really are. It could possibly hurt your claim.

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