In the April 2011 issue of Self, there is an article called Who is Checking Your Status? (written by Jessica Girdwain). The article tells the story of a girl named Nathalie Blanchard, a 30-year-old who was on disability for depression. Her doctor (as would other doctors treating a patient with depression) encouraged socializing to help her combat her depression. However, Manulife, her insurance company at the time, checked Nathalie’s Facebook page to make sure she was still in need of her disability payments. What they saw in her photo albums and on her status updates made them question whether Nathalie was being truthful about her depression, and they felt the need to hire a private investigator to follow her. After all of the evidence came back to Manulife regarding Nathalie’s socialization and her nights out with friends, they refused her disability and told her it was time to go back to work because she seemed healthy enough. Nathalie has since sued Manulife, and the article quotes a health care lawyer David Harlow who says, “after all, depressed people smile.” Her trial is currently pending.

So what does this mean for the rest of us? It means that we need to be much more careful with our Facebook pages. Even though Nathalie was technically doing what the doctor ordered, her insurance company did not see it that way. Legally, an insurance company has the right to search your Facebook page because you have shared this information with others online.

Not only are insurance companies stalking our Facebook pages but so are employers. They use Facebook as a way to screen candidates for jobs and an employee can be fired for any reason the company deems unsuitable. The article cites posts about drinking or “missing too much work for migraines or in vitro fertilization” as reasons why companies have fired employees. The shocking news is this: all of it is legal because YOU are putting this information online where the public has access to it. Insurers and employers feel it would be negligent of them not to check your social media sites because they must protect themselves financially and cruising social media sites is part of their research.

How do you keep yourself safe from insurance companies and employers? Look to your privacy and application settings. The article suggests:

1. Adjust your privacy settings to find out what “Everyone,” “Friends of Friends,” and “Friends Only” can see and change those settings so that no one but “Friends Only” can view your full profile. That way if someone is not your friend they can only see your basic information.

2. Google yourself to find out if your Facebook profile appears on the search. If it does, go to the Apps and Websites page within Privacy Settings and hide your page from search engines.

3. Set up alerts for strange activity on your account. To do this go to Account Settings and then Account Security.

 

All in all, having your Facebook profile completely public is probably not the smartest idea. When applying for jobs or when you are insured you should be more careful about what you post and also what the general public has access to. You’ve been warned!

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