Update: The Washington Times reports that the Social Security Administration last month informed ALJ’s that they are no longer permitted to search the internet for incriminating evidence in disability claims. Although this practice is prohibited, and cannot be cited as a reason for denial in a disability decision, Social Security Disability Applicants should still be concerned that these actions will be taken off-the-record, and you will have no opportunity to respond to the use of this evidence. Thank you to Charles Hall for posting about this policy change (http://socsecnews.blogspot.com/2012/05/aljs-forbidden-to-search-online-for.html).
If you are filing for Social Security Disability benefits, you must be aware of what information is publicly available about you. If you have a public profile on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or any other social networking site, be aware that the person making a decision on your claim may see that information. Since that person knows very little about you, this information may be harmful to your claim.
Whenever you have public information posted about yourself, think about how someone that knows nothing about you may feel about you after reading your profile. For example, you would never want to post a status update indicating “enjoying downtime while trying to get my disability”. This type of thing could be posted to be funny, but if the person that is making a decision on your claim sees this, they won’t be laughing. It is also important that anything you post is consistent with your disability. If you are constantly engaging in activities according to your Facebook Timeline, it will be hard for an adjudicator or Administrative Law Judge to believe that you are completely unable to perform full time work.
I am not suggesting that every adjudicator or Administrative Law Judge is doing a Google search to find out information about you, but I can guarantee that some do. I know that I have been shocked to find some public information that is available about my own clients, and I have even decided not to accept prospective clients in the past because I found that they had publicly viewable information on their Facebook profile that indicated that they were actively engaging in activities that they told me weren’t possible because of their disabilities. This information may not be listed in your decision as the reason that your claim for disability benefits has been denied, but it definitely will cause the person making a decision to not view the evidence in your file in the most favorable light.
What I suggest that you do if you are applying for Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income payments is do a Google search for yourself and know what is viewable if you aren’t logged into any websites. If you are not sure if information you have posted would be viewed negative, then you probably should not have it publicly available. After you have deleted (or made private) anything you think could be viewed negative, ask a family member or close friend to view your public page to determine if they think anything is still negative. Even consider removing information from your private page that could be viewed negative. You would be shocked how often friends or family report possible fraud in disability claims because of things they see or hear.
The purpose of this article is not to scare people to not use Social Networking sites, but to make sure you are aware of ways the information you post can hurt you. Just always consider before you post something, what would you think if you saw the information and knew nothing about the person that posted it.
This article was written by Steven Butler. Steven is a partner at Linarducci & Butler, PA and his practice is limited to Social Security Disability/SSI claims. To schedule a consultation with Steven, please call 302-613-0707 to schedule an appointment.