Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace): Friend or Foe?
Posted Dec 31 2009 10:24am
Back in July, I posted a blog about how Facebook can potentially damage your Social Security Disability claim if information contained in your profile contradicts your disability claim and somehow gets in the wrong hands. But since there are many social media sites out there, I would like to elaborate on this topic so as to provide more comprehensive advice on the topic of whether social media is a friend or foe.
Never before in the history of technology has there been such an array of sources available for an individual to stay in contact with friends and family far and near. One feature of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook that attracts millions of users per day is their short learning curve. The simplicity of these sites coupled with the fact that these mediums are free to the public attracts record amounts of new signees daily, and there appears to be no signs of a recession in sight. Although these type mediums are great tools in which to stay in contact or reunite with high school friends and distant family, a danger lurks within, which most users are either not aware of or simply take for granted. A mistake concerning privacy control on either of these social network sites could be the deciding factor on whether a disability applicant will receive benefits or not.
Facebook, Twitter and MySpace share the same premise for social contact; however, these social forums differ in their rules and regulations. Most of these sites are in real-time with postings denoting both a date and time for each post. For instance, the popular sites of Facebook and MySpace provide its users with the ability to post an indefinite supply of pictures and comments to a user’s network or followers, while its rival, Twitter is limited to micro blogs, those postings confined to only 140 characters. Creating messages under such a restricted limit often causes posts of only quick thoughts. Although most Twitter users voice frustration on being restricted to the mere 140 characters (spaces included), 140 characters unwisely utilized by “Jane Doe,” the social security applicant, could lead to irreparable harm and the demise of her disability application. To show how a simple post on Twitter can go from fun to disaster with the click of button (less than two seconds), let us take a brief look at a sample tweet. “Went on our family vacation, enjoyed synchronized swimming class at the hotel's pool and walking around Disney World. Great time!” Although not a proper sentence, common to the Twitter world, this 116 character long tweet is the precursor for an impending disaster. Yes, as a post, it sufficiently allowed followers to learn and have a glimpse of her recent travel; in the social security world, however, it could be considered a costly mistake.
There are several key facts and words in the sample tweet above that warrants further review and/or poses additional questions. Who are your followers? Do you truly know each person that is following you? Past and present users understand that anyone can open a Twitter account following answering only a few questions. The ability to follow anyone of interest is possible within minutes after that. The ALJ (Administrative Law Judge) assigned to your disability case just may be one that is interested in following you. Potential followers are not limited to just those individuals in the Social Security family, it is important not to forget past and present co-workers, employers, estranged family members, and even former wives/husbands and girlfriends/boyfriends. Since users have the flexibility to create their own username, identities may or may not be reflected in their selected username. For the disability applicant who has stated that she suffers incredible pain, requires pain medication, is only able to be mobile a limited amount of time per day, and is unable to follow-through with a set of basic instructions, posting comments related to taking a “synchronized swimming class” and “walking around Disney World” grossly contradicts information noted within her disability application. One happy but careless tweet has the potential to cost this woman her disability claim if the information posted falls into the hands of her disability decision maker. There are two lessons that can be learned through this example. First, the information noted on any disability application should reflect a true and accurate representation of an individual’s limitations. Second, by taking the time to check the privacy selections on your account, you can select postings be only visible to those individuals that you wholeheartedly know and trust. I have seen close to a hundred accounts and only a handful has been marked private requiring the author’s permission and prior knowledge before granting any individual the ability to follow them via their postings.
I have mentioned the hazards that exist with Twitter; however, Facebook and MySpace are not void of privacy problems either. Users of these two sites are able to upload pictures which has the potential to unlock another beast that users will be forced to reckon with if those innocent pictures of the disability applicant skiing, enjoying a family vacation at the beach, celebrating following a win from their favorite SEC football team fall in the hands of an adversary. Like Twitter users, Facebook and MySpace afford its users privacy features as it relates to both picture viewing by others and wall-to-wall posting and comment visibility. The problem is that individuals do not take the time necessary to enact these controls.
Of course, social networking sites have tremendous benefits and appear to be a trend that will linger for years to come. However, users need to exercise great caution while deploying these social media services. These sites reinforce the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Pictures depicting a full range of abilities otherwise not stated in a disability application may in fact be the “straw that broke the camels back,” so to speak. Disability applicants are highly encouraged to take the time necessary to enact privacy features on any social media site they use. It only takes a few minutes. Failure to do so could result in negative consequences for your Social Security Disability claim.