We hear it time and again: Be careful what you post online. The more of our lives we put online, the more we risk compromising our privacy. However, people still end up sharing more than they may realize.
Urges to use caution online remain as critical as ever. This is especially true in light of a new initiative that would put the lives of people claiming Social Security disability benefits under increased online scrutiny.
The fiscal year 2020 federal budget outlines plans to further use social media to review applicants for disability coverage and to weed out those who are frauds.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) said it's "evaluating how social media could be used by disability adjudicators in assessing the consistency and supportability of evidence in a claimant's case file".
Supporters say the move will help prevent fraud and stop people from abusing the system, but the announcement has drawn anger from both disability advocates and privacy proponents. They say that social media is not a good indicator of the realities of someone's life and that this is an example of gross government overreach.
Further, statistics show that Social Security fraud is exceedingly rare. In 2018, $98 million was recovered by the SSA from fraud investigations, but that is just a drop in the bucket compared to the $197 billion paid out that year. In fact, the rate of overpayment for all Social Security programs is less than 1 percent.
How might this affect disabled workers?
Many people use social media as a means of escape and not a reflection of their daily lives. It is conceivable that someone suffering from a life-altering disability may want to share old photos of happier times in their lives while downplaying the daily struggles. It is often difficult to determine the date a picture was taken opposed to when it was posted. Can we trust investigators to make this distinction?
An outsider looking in on your social media persona can get a very different picture of your life than how it really is.
Be safe online
Whether or not the SSA will start routinely digging in to applicant's social media profiles remains unknown. However, this can serve as a good reminder to everyone, even for those not worried about Social Security payments, that it's smart to be selective and mindful about what you choose to post online. While social media helps bring people together, it can also give up sensitive personal information.