Facebook, Twitter, My Space and LinkedIn accounts are as commonplace as cell phones and email for most people. The profiles and content are as detailed and explicit as the user cares to provide to the public. While some services provide filters or “privacy” settings, the practical reality is whatever you post online is there for the world to see. Your content is not limited to friends and family but anyone who may take an interest in you and your activities for whatever reason.
Personal content shared in the public forum can be particularly problematic for individuals seeking Federal benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) or the Veterans Administration (VA). Standard questions posed by almost every Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) are; “Do you have a Facebook profile?” “How many friends do you have on Facebook?” “How many followers do you have on Twitter?”
The virtual world creates very real risks to the user in the form of misconceptions, mischaracterizations undue scrutiny and pre-judgment by the agency reviewing your information. Most people present a positive picture of themselves on their social media profile and overstate what they are doing. It is human nature to show the photographs from a good day when one is smiling and upbeat and not the images of one’s self, still in pajamas at 3 p.m. and four days out from a shower. People create a profile of a likeable and accomplished individual, focusing on the good qualities and characteristics and downplaying their problems. The social media profile is a creative fiction that cherry picks the person’s best and downplays the worst. The problem is, SSA and the VA can use this same information to discredit claims about disability and rely on the very content posted by you.
The rationale is if you have 250 friends on Facebook, you cannot suffer from panic attacks and agoraphobia. If you travelled on a plane to Texas and posted pictures with your extended family, you certainly possess the physical capacity to perform work as a bench assembler. If you post pictures of yourself at a car museum, you have a hobby and interest in cars and you are likely working as a shade tree mechanic getting paid under the table.
Most administrative hearings last about an hour and the majority of the questions are asked by the ALJ. This should be your opportunity to tell your story and to be heard. Your personal information displayed in a public forum for scrutiny and judgment simply creates distraction and more reasons for the agency to doubt the extent of your disabling conditions. Post your personal information on social media at your own peril.