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.


Trump Administration Wants to View Social Media of Disabled People is a post written by Jen Thorpe on Book of Jen and is not allowed to be copied to other sites.

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  1. I feel bad for people who are trying to get benefits. Sucks even more because I am a mentally disabled adult who started benefits back when I was 14 years old. I go every few years through their process to see if I am still considered Mentally disabled. I fear because it seems the recent attacks/shootings and so forth are from those that suffer or probably suffer some sort of mental illness, they are now going to attack the unseen disabilities like mine. Having the physical ones does not even seem to register for them as well from what I read in your post, and sadly the ones that will suffer are the ones that don’t use social media for negative means, we use social media to spread awareness, talk about issues, and seek help that we can’t always get in a professional setting. Plus we use social media to keep in contact with friends we’ve made, and sometimes even family when they are scattered all over the world. Excellent post, and thank you for bringing this to my attention our local media is still only talking about the mass shootings and the people that did them, not the victims or anything else.

    1. Shadowz,

      Thank you for your very well written comment! I appreciate you taking the time to post it. You bring up some very good points about how people who have mental disabilities could be affected by the Trump administration’s policies. I agree with you, people with disabilities do use social media to keep in contact with friends and family. Sometimes it is the only way. And you are right, the media is focusing on the wrong things.

  2. This is pretty much exactly what happened in the UK, only here it was a direct result of the 2007/8 global financial crisis rather than an ideological process. That led to a decade of what was called “austerity” and huge cost-cutting measures were applied just about everywhere.

    Over time there was a considerable amount of pushback and things aren’t quite as extreme as they were, but even so the line has been moved a long way from where it was, when the assumption was that people with health-related issues were due compassion and empathy, to where it is now, when there’s general suspicion that “disabled” people are as likely to be running some kind of con as not.

    This sort of thing needs to be opposed at every turn, although doing that is a lot harder than saying it. Even talking about it helps to modify the zeitgeist, though.

    1. Bhagpuss, thank you for your comment! I am sorry to hear that what is happening with disability benefits here in the US is “pretty much exactly” what happened in the UK. It really bothers me that world leaders fail to have empathy for those who are struggling with disabilities. I agree with you, talking about these kinds of issues is a way to “modify the zeitgeist”. I cross-posted this blog post to Medium, in an effort to get it in front of more eyeballs than my blog gets. Maybe things will change in the US after the 2020 election.

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