Social Media Accounts and Disability Benefits Determinations

Q: Should social media accounts determine disability benefits eligibility?

Applying for Social Security disability benefits can be a long and difficult process in the best- case scenario. The federal government offers two different disability benefits programs for those who meet its definition of “disabled” and each program’s different eligibility requirements.

The government’s definition of “disabled” is “the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity due to a medically determinable impairment that has lasted or is expected to last a minimum of 12 months or result in death”. There is a long list of physical and mental impairments that the government generally recognizes as qualifying conditions.

The difference between the two disability benefits programs is that Social Security disability insurance benefits (“SSDI”) require the applicant to be between 18-65 years old and to have previously worked and paid into the Social Security system through payroll taxes for a minimum amount of time (work credits). Unlike SSDI (which is not based on an applicant’s financial resources), Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) is only available to applicants who are severely limited in financial resources and who are generally disabled, blind or over the age of 65. For SSI, there is no work credit prerequisite.

Disability attorneys, advocates, and disabled individuals themselves are concerned about a proposal that could have Social Security Administration officials “routinely examine the social media accounts of people who have applied for or receive disability benefits as part of determining whether they qualify”.

The arguments against this proposal are numerous including:

  • how somebody appears in a social media post “is not necessarily evidence of [disability] fraud”
  • photos/videos “tell you very little about their physical and mental health”
  • photos/videos don’t tell if the person “can do [the activity] on a regular basis…how much pain they are in, or the price they pay afterward”
  • studies show that people generally “present themselves in the best possible light on social media”
  • legitimately disabled people may “share the joy of having a good day” on social media rather than sharing that they feel bad, had a treatment or saw a doctor
  • social media posts about “working” might mean volunteering and doesn’t necessarily mean they are “capable of substantial gainful activity”
  • pictures don’t always show wheelchairs, assisted devices, and personal support staff that may be just behind the edge of the photo
  • it’s particularly discriminatory to those with “invisible” disabilities.

For these and many other reasons disabled people, who may already struggle with shame regarding their inability to work, will likely be afraid to post on social media, resulting in more isolation and the inability to access needed support services provided by social media groups.

If you need assistance applying for disability benefits or appealing the denial of benefits the disability attorneys of Arizona at Roeschke Law can help you. Contact us today for a free consultation.

From our offices in Tempe, Phoenix, and Tucson, we help disabled people and their families in all aspects of Social Security disability benefits law.