dave-mittlemanIn a world where it has become increasingly more popular to post every aspect of our lives online through social networking sites such as Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter, Natalie Blanchard hardly realized that her seemingly innocent Facebook photos would change her life as much as they did. Blanchard, like the millions of other Facebook users posted photos of herself on a beach vacation, at a birthday party, and posing with Chippendale dancers at a bar. However, Blanchard like a few other Facebook users, has become a poster child for caution during the social media age.

In fact, Blanchard suffers from severe depression and has been on long-term disability from her job at IBM for over a year-and-a-half. Her insurance provider, Manulife, has paid her disability benefits since she left her job after her depression became severe enough to hinder her daily life activities. Thus, when she suddenly stopped receiving the checks in the mail from Manulife, she called the company to see what was wrong. She was shocked when the company informed her that they had cut her benefits off because they had viewed her photos on Facebook and no longer believed that she suffered from depression.

Publicly, Manulife claims that it “would not deny or terminate a valid claim solely based on information published on website such as Facebook.” However, the company does admit that it checks the profiles for its clients. Blanchard’s situation offers an important lesson in protecting privacy while utilizing social networking sites: while Facebook offers users an opportunity to share a “slice” of their life with friends and the world, it is important to remember that employers, and apparently insurance companies, use seemingly harmless posted information, too. However, it is too late for Blanchard to heed this privacy advice: instead, she has filed a civil suit against Manulife for $275,000 and is scheduled to appear in Quebec Superior Court on December 8.