I recently ran across a very timely post on Jim Reed’s New York Injury Law blog entitled “When Facebook Isn’t a Friend to Your Personal Injury Case.” Jim correctly points out that the default privacy setting on Facebook is essentially “no privacy” meaning that anyone in your geographic area can view your profile, your photos and comments made by and about you.
What does this have to do with your Social Security disability case?
First, remember that the main issue in most Social Security cases is whether you have the capacity to perform simple, entry level, low-stress, sit-down type of work. Now, take a look at your Facebook profile. Does it contain photos of you dancing at a wedding, or on the beach? Are there comments from friends chatting about that family get-together or class reunion?
Some of my disability clients “friend” me and I always find it interesting to look at their profiles. I am looking at one such profile right now and it reads as follows:
“I am a writer/poet, artist, sculptor, musician, wood artist, wordsmith, businesswoman, mother, ex-wife, retired postalworker, driver, fragrance designer, student, photographer, jokester, painter, and furniture designer.”
The profile also lists an “employer” and according this person’s profile, she “acts like she is 32,” she is most like President Harry Truman, her love meter reads “inferno,” and she thinks about sex 1440 times a day!
Now, this particular client has a legitimate disability case and her case was approved several months ago. Imagine, however, that the judge who was assigned to her case came across this profile during his hearing preparation. Might he get a different sense of what this person is all about?
I also know from my own snooping around that several of the judges who work in the Atlanta hearing offices do have Facebook profiles. Do they look for open profiles of claimants that will be appearing before them? I have no way of knowing if they do now, but I would not potentially put my case at risk unnecessarily.
Remember, too that most disability cases will be subject to a periodic continuing review, and it would not surprise me at all if Social Security begins using web searches to locate information about claimants who may be engaging in activities that may look like work.
I call also report that I get two or three emails a year from unhappy ex-wives or ex-friends who would like nothing better than to mess up a former friend’s claim. A couple of years ago, I represented a claimant who was approved, but then had his approval withdrawn when a former friend sent links to his web site to Social Security, which then triggered an investigation.
So, if you use Facebook or mySpace or any of the hundreds of other social media sites, I strongly recommend that you spend a little time learning about the privacy features, and that you restrict access to your profile to people who you know well. You should also keep in mind that anything you post or do on-line may reappear, so be very careful about your on-line activities.
Jonathan Ginsberg represents Social Security disability claimants in Georgia. In practice for over 29 years, Jonathan publishes a widely known disability blog, a podcast and several disability web sites. In 2004, Jonathan published a "how to" book about Social Security disability called the Disability Answer Guide. Jonathan lives with his wife and 2 children in Atlanta.