In this day and age, the Internet has become a ubiquitous and practical source of information for any investigator or finder of fact. When adjudicating a claim, however, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) may not rely upon information obtained from the Internet or social media sites, whether from a computer or smartphone (Hallex I-2-5-69). Although the Internet has proven useful as a general source, any researcher should exercise caution when evaluating the credibility and veracity of information obtained from the Internet.
Exceptions to the rule against an ALJ relying on internet material occur where the information has been corroborated by the Cooperative Disability Investigations Unit (CDIU), or if the evidence was submitted by the claimant or appointed representative as evidence (Id.). Claimants and their representatives have an affirmative duty to submit or inform the agency about all evidence that relates to whether they are disabled (Hallex I-2-5-1). However, an ALJ must not instigate an independent investigation to determine the validity of a statement made on the Internet. (Hallex I-2-5-69).
The ALJ has an independent duty to develop a complete medical history, and must base his or her decision on evidence offered at the hearing or otherwise included in the record (20 CFR 404.953(a); see also 20 CFR §§ 404.1512(d) and 416.912(d)). At a hearing, the ALJ may also decide that additional medical or non-medical evidence is needed to make a proper decision on the case, and make all reasonable attempts to fully develop the record. (Hallex I-2-5-1).
When applicable, the ALJ must evaluate the functionally limiting effects of pain or other symptoms, applying the factors and principles set forth in 20 CFR §§ 404.1529 and 416.929, as well as SSR 16-3p. While it is acceptable for an ALJ to consider his or her own observations on a claimant during an administrative hearing, decisions based on matters outside the record have long been deemed improper, lest the ALJ go beyond his role as a judge and juror. Banegas v. Heckler, 587 F. Supp. 549 (1984).