We’ve warned readers about protecting your online profiles on Social Media sites. You could be blindsided by an ALJ who questions you at your hearing about something that appeared on Facebook. It has already happened to some claimants.
Even federal courts have cited internet information that it found about a plaintiff in a Social Security appeal case. See, e.g., Purvis v. Commissioner, 2011 WL 741234 (D. NJ, Feb 23, 2011). In Purvis, the court noted that a picture it discovered on Facebook of an allegedly asthmatic claimant smoking could undermine their credibility “if accurate.”
A new development in this area is that SSA has warned all of its decision makers (which includes initial claims “analysts” and ALJs), that they should not use Internet sites and social media networks to obtain information about you.
In a Policy Instruction issued on April 16, 2012, SSA stated that decision makers are to use “approved” methods for gathering information when determining credibility. They must not use:
uncorroborated information from Internet and social networking sites when determining disability, and should not instigate any independent investigations. As it is impossible for decision makers to determine the accuracy of information found on Internet and social networking sites, they must not use material from such sites when making a disability determination.
Instead, they should consider the entire record when making a credibility finding.
SSA also noted that decision-makers can and should consider information obtained from the Internet that is included in a report when a claim is investigated for fraud.
Despite this new instruction, we still feel it is wise to limit public access to any online profile you may have. Even though SSA cannot openly use this information against you, it may not stop some decision makers from searching for the information to reach a conclusion about your honesty.