Social media has come a long way in just a few years. It was only in 2004 that Facebook launched. Today it has more than 2 billion users worldwide and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is one of the wealthiest people in the world.
Recent problems that have made headlines allege shortcomings in Facebook’s privacy policies and editorial oversight obligations. That has eroded some of the company’s stock value. But it is still a formidable resource. One that the Trump administration says it would like to tap to stem what is acknowledged by many to be a problem of costly, possibly fraudulent, improper payments by various government programs, including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).
Those who fight for the rights of those eligible by law for the benefits of these programs know full well that obtaining them can be frustrating. The time from application to decision takes months to years. Initial denial is common, prompting appeals that take even more time to sort out.
No one would argue that the government doesn’t have a valid interest in curbing improper payments. But the indication in the administration’s latest proposed budget that the Social Security Administration is exploring using Facebook and platforms like it to uncover possible disability fraud is called by many observers misguided.
The reason for that view is simple. Those with experience with the SSDI process know it isn’t easy to qualify in the first place. And suggesting that Facebook or other social media postings might provide evidence valid enough to rescind benefits raises significant due process questions.
As some watchers note, what gets posted to social media often has little or nothing to do with an individual’s current life situation. Posts might simply reflect memories of happier times before a disabling condition developed.
Again, government’s responsibility to administer SSDI and programs like it is acknowledged. However, it is important to recognize that of the $132 billion distributed annually through SSDI, improper payments make up just 3 percent. Also, the heading of improper payments includes not just fraud, but overpayments and underpayments due to administrative error. And it’s not known how much of the 3 percent is fraud-related.
That said, it seems fair to ask whether government’s desire to tap social media more than it already does offsets the potential of privacy invasion. What do you think?