Facebook can be a dangerous beast. As social media evolves -- and the freedom of the Internet diminishes our self-censorship -- many have run into situations where Facebook has landed them in trouble and sometimes canned from a gig. It has been established that some companies scrutinize employee and potential employee Facebook pages to ensure what it's getting isn't tarnished by bad behavior such as playing hooky or being loose-tongued about one's feelings about work. The latest example is a little trickier: a Canadian woman saw her health benefits stripped away after the insurance company saw "happy" pictures of her on Facebook.
Nathalie Blanchard, 29, took long-term sick leave from her job at IBM in Quebec after she was diagnosed with major depressive disorder in February 2008. Until this fall, Blanchard received monthly benefits from Manulife. Suddenly the checks stopped arriving, and when Blanchard called Manulife to inquire, the company claimed Blanchard was available to work because of photos she had posted on Facebook of her looking "happy" at a Chippendales bar show, at her birthday party, and on holiday. These snapshots evidently proved to Manulife that Blanchard was no longer depressed and therefore ineligible for health benefits.
Blanchard's lawyer, Thomas Lavin, said the woman was encouraged by her doctor to take small vacations to cleanse her mind of worries and reintegrate with friends in social settings.
Manulife is tight-lipped about Blanchard's case, but said in a written statement: "We would not deny or terminate a valid claim solely based on information published on websites such as Facebook." Manulife also confirmed that it uses the popular social networking site to investigate clients.
So who here is to blame? There are multiple layers to this case. First of all, Blanchard shouldn't have gotten busted if she had followed the variety of ways to protect your privacy on social networking sites. Take a moment of contemplation before posting something potentially harmful; remember who you've befriended; and, the biggie: make your account private. The latter is a surefire way to avoid the wrecking ball.
Manulife also should have followed up with Blanchard and given her a chance to explain the photographs. Just because someone has major depressive disorder does not mean they should be under house arrest, wrapped in chains. Blanchard's doctor could have vouched for her behavior had Manulife bothered to ask.
But I do see where the insurance company may have gotten suspicious. I am not a doctor or a psychiatrist, but I have never before heard of someone getting an entire year and a half off for major depressive disorder, especially if not an inpatient. Granted, mental imbalances come in various packages, and Blanchard's may be severe -- but with the right mixture of therapy and medication, many, but not all, have bounced back from deep pits and learned to live healthy, productive lives. It's also worth mentioning that this story unfolds in Canada, which provides national health care, so while it may be a stretch to expect this sort of consideration in the United States, it's an entirely different story up north. Also, this is my opinion, and should not be taken as fact.
We live in a time where many get a false sense of security and freedom when it comes to the Internet. These social networking pages are ours -- or at least they feel like ours -- and it can come as a shock when the curtain is violently ripped back and our scaffolding is exposed. With the right mixture of inconspicuousness and second-guessing, many problems stemming from Facebook can be dodged, but perhaps at the expense of truly expressing our lives the way we'd like.