It is no surprise that in the rise of social networking – and the seemingly constant stream of micro-blogging individuals seem to undertake these days – paranoia has sprung up around the platforms that allow us to catalogue our lives so completely. Suffering from a chronic illness myself, I can easily understand the appeal of social networking sites (SNSs) such as Facebook and Twitter in connecting with friends and family when one physically cannot. Additionally it allows for individuals to remain present in their social circles, something that is critical to adolescent development.
The SNS context is generally pretty upbeat. Happy and encouraging posts are celebrated; sad and negative posts are maligned. However updating a Twitter or Facebook feed takes a few seconds and very little effort, something which can appeal to an incapacitated individual, who may wish to share that that day; they managed to go for a walk or perhaps managed to get out of bed. Yet this poses a problem for individuals on disability benefits.
If employers scan SNSs for employee behaviour what is to say that insurance companies do not do the same thing, attempting to catch out disability frauds. British MP Nadine Dorries posted a blog discussing people who tweet excessively in which she states:
‘…if it’s someone you know is on benefits, [and tweets excessively] contact the DWP.’
Is this the right attitude to have towards disabled people celebrating milestones that other individuals may not have any context to judge within? In 2009 a Canadian IBM employee was on leave from employment as she was suffering from depression. Her insurance company chose to discontinue her monthly sick-leave benefits as her recent photos of her at the beach and at her birthday party clearly showed she was no longer suffering. The employee argued that she only attended the functions at the insistence of her doctor and that, in actual fact, her depression had not relieved any.
When disabled individuals use SNSs, they are faced with a dilemma; comply with SNS norms and face persecution from society and insurance companies, or reject the norms and face being maligned by their social network. It is no wonder many, such as Steven Sumpter (aka Latent Existence on Twitter) choose to remove themselves from the social networking sites altogether just to cover themselves. This was not what social networking was designed for.
Incurable Hippie, 2011,Just Because You’re Paranoid Doesn’t Mean They’re Not Out To Get You, weblog, accessed 4/4/2012, http://wheresthebenefit.blogspot.com.au/2011/02/just-because-youre-paranoid-doesnt-mean.html
Albanesius, C 2009, ‘Woman Loses Disability Over Facebook Pics’, PC Mag, 24 November, accessed 4/4/2012, http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2356282,00.asp
Dorries, N 2010, Twitter Obsession, weblog, accessed 4/4/2012, http://blog.dorries.org/id-1672-2010_9_Twitter_Obsession.aspx