Trump Administration Wants to View Social Media of Disabled People

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

The Trump Administration wants to enact a policy that will give them an unprecedented way to cause harm to people who are disabled. Part of the Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Overview includes the intention to view the social media of people who are disabled, and who currently receive Social Security Disability benefits.

The administration’s goal is to take away the benefits that people have already been deemed eligible for. This terrible policy would also affect people who are disabled and who are currently trying to go through the arduous process of getting approved for Social Security Disability benefits.

This policy is an example of ableism. Merriam-Webster defines “ableism” as: discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disabilities. The policy does not have any direct negative effect on people who do not have disabilities.

On March 10, 2019, The New York Times posted an article titled: “On Disability and on Facebook? Uncle Sam Wants to Watch What You Post”. From the article:

The Trump administration has been quietly working on a proposal to use social media like Facebook and Twitter to help identify people who claim Social Security disability benefits without actually being disabled. If, for example, a person claimed benefits because of a back injury, but was shown playing golf in a photograph posted on Facebook, that could be used as evidence that the injury was not disabling.

On April 11, 2019, Forbes posted an article titled: “How A Trump Proposal Could Reduce ‘Happy’ Disabled People”. From the article:

A new policy proposal by the Trump administration calls for the surveillance of disabled people’s social media profiles to determine the necessity of their disability benefits. The proposal, which reportedly aims to cut down on the number of fraudulent disability claims would monitor the profiles of disabled people and flag content that shows them doing physical activities. When it comes down to it, the policy dictates that disabled people shouldn’t be seen living their lives for fear of losing vital financial aid and, possibly, medical care.

Page 26 of the Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Overview of the Social Security Administration says:

Integrate Social Media in Disability Determination

In FY 2018, we studied strategies of our private sector counterparts and government agencies on how social media networks can be used to evaluate disability allegations. Currently, agency adjudicators use social media information to evaluate a beneficiary’s symptoms when there is a CDI unit’s Report of Investigation that contains social media data corroborating the investigative findings. In FY 2019, we are evaluating how social media could be used by disability adjudicators in assessing the consistency and supportability of evidence in a claimant’s case file.

CDI refers to the Cooperative Disability Investigations Program, which is part of the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the Social Security Administration. It is described (on the OIG website) as: The main objective of CDI is to obtain evidence that can resolve questions of fraud in SSA disability programs.

It is unclear when this ableist policy will go into affect. Perhaps it already has. The best advice I can give people who, like me, have disabilities and use social media, is to make all of your accounts private.

Doing so prevents someone from the Trump administration from easily spying on your social media, in the hopes of finding a reason to deny your disability claim. I made all my social media private the moment I heard about the Trump administration’s latest way to cause harm to people who are disabled.

Personally, I find this policy to be absolutely terrifying. My husband receives Social Security Disability assistance because he was born with optic atrophy and has extremely limited vision. He is legally blind.

I worry that the Trump administration will conclude that, because he can use a smartphone if its has a large enough screen, that my husband is magically no longer disabled. This is, of course, impossible, because there is no way to “cure” optic atrophy.

I’m about to start my second attempt at obtaining Social Security Disability benefits. The first time, it literally took years to get through the process. I got denied, and appealed. Then, I got denied again, and appealed it. Then I got denied a third and final time, and gave up.

The process itself is designed to wear people down so that they will give up and stop trying to obtain the financial and medical assistance that they truly are eligible for. And now, disabled people like myself are going to have to worry about what their social media may show.

Just the other day, I had to go outside because I had an appointment with my rheumatologist. The pollen count that day was at 7, which is enough to negatively effect my allergies. My rheumatologist confirmed that I still have fibromyalgia — which has no cure. He prescribed a pain medication, which I will do research on just in case it contains an allergen.

The Social Security Administration appears to look at people’s claims with the assumption that they are lying about everything. My diagnosis of fibromyalgia came while I was going through the years long process of applying for disability. I only had documentation about my allergies, which apparently don’t count, so they rejected my claim.

The determination of whether or not a person receives Social Security Disability benefits should be entirely based on what their disabilities are, and how those disabilities limit their ability to work and lead a full life. The decision should be medically based — and not determined by what is on a person’s social media.

Originally published at on August 8, 2019.

Freelance writer with invisible illnesses and chronic pain. Poet, podcaster, video game player, creator of strange artwork, they/them @OwnkaMav

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