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Could the Trump Administration Use Facebook to Determine Disability?

The Trump administration has plans to look at people’s social media posts to qualify them for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

Under the plan, the Social Security Administration (SSA) could check up on claimants via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media sites. This plan was encouraged by The Heritage Foundation, which recently published a paper titled “16 Reforms to Improve the Solvency and Integrity of Social Security Disability Insurance.”

As it is now, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) is allowed to use social media data when an instance of fraud is suspected. With the new plan, officials could look into someone’s social media accounts at any time when determining disability eligibility.

Last year, Social Security stated in its budget request that it would look into using social media to “increase program integrity and expedite the identification of fraud.”

Problems with the plan

Detractors are saying that this is unfair and a breach of privacy because it doesn’t account for context. For example, posts might be from another time frame or from a day when the person was feeling well and able to be more active. Social media posts may show vacation photos and highlights of a person’s life rather than the day-to-day reality of living with a disability. In addition, the social media page could be a fraudulent page, and images could also be doctored or Photoshopped.

Detractors add that utilizing a social media review would add time to an already long process of claiming disability — a process that can take up to three years.

Looking at people’s Facebook accounts could also add to the already difficult process of remaining on disability. Those on disability already undergo frequent “continuing disability reviews” to make sure they still qualify. If disability benefits are discontinued, a person can appeal the decision.  

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About Social Security disability insurance

In order to claim disability, one must:

  • Not be able to work,
  • Have an ongoing condition lasting at least one year, and/or
  • Have a condition expected to result in death

Currently, around 14 million people get Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits that add up to around $150 billion per year. The average amount someone on disability receives per month is $1,200.

Questions arise

Is there a need for this kind of fraud investigation? Researchers say the amount of fraud in Social Security disability is actually not very large. In addition, the number of people applying for SSA disability benefits is actually down due to more disabled workers being able to work from home via the internet.

Disability can look different from day to day. Depending on what condition the person has — including cerebral palsy, MS, or others — some days they might be able to move around and be active, and other days not at all. Detractors argue that would not be fair to watch them in this manner, and that it would lead to people censoring themselves online.

This potential plan raises many questions regarding data privacy. What do you think about the issue? Follow us on Facebook and let us know.

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