“Life’s too short, have an affair”, taglines the pay-as-you-go infidelity website Ashley Madison, brought to the world’s attention after hackers stole the personal details of around 37 million registered users and dumped them online. The website’s digitised denigration of monogamous relationships is wrong, yet this form of vigilante justice is never a suitable way to tackle societal problems.
No party here is entirely guilt free. The company, Avid Dating Life, exploits weak martial relations for their own profitable gain. The users structurally intend to stray from their vowed fidelity. The hackers’ vigilante justice has attempted to dictate the morality of society and has put people in danger. And society created the circumstances in which this website was able to exist.
Hacks have existed throughout the digital age – normally credit card details are at risk. This is the first breach of privacy that cannot be fixed with a phone call to the bank. Names, email addresses, sexual preferences, sexual fantasies. Sufficient information to lose jobs, marriages, and personal relations. We all have Pandora in our digital box – weird google searches, a little too much porn. It is terrifying that an anonymous, unaccountable vigilante group can unleash this information to the world.
In this modern age, it’s more and more difficult to keep hold of our privacy. One assumes that The Impact Team (the name of the hack group responsible, not IMPACT Magazine) did not think that a Saudi Arabian man would be at risk of execution after details of his homosexuality were released in the leak. Neither, of the 1,200 email addresses that derive from a country where both adultery and homosexuality are illegal.
“We all have Pandora in our digital box – weird google searches, a little too much porn. It is terrifying that an anonymous, unaccountable vigilante group can unleash this information to the world.”
Two individuals have reportedly committed suicide after details of their activity were revealed. Those families, I’m sure, would rather have a privately adulterous father than no father at all.
The statement put out by the Impact Team on Reddit read… “See ashley madison fake profile lawsuit; 90-95% of actual users are male. Chances are your man signed up on the world’s biggest affair site, but never had one. He just tried to. If that distinction matters.”
Initially, the hackers sought to shut down the website in protest of its false use of the ‘full delete’ option. Users were charged to permanently delete their account, but trackable details of their card credit remained in the system. However, it is slightly hypocritical to contend that users cannot hide the trace of their activity on the site, by releasing the details of their activity on the site to the general public.
“A digitally arranged affair is an intentional and forced way to cheat on a spouse, and is perhaps more emotionally distressing than an accidental affair that occurred via months of flirting in the office.”
It is clear the hackers were not just targeting the company, but the users. A digitally arranged affair is an intentional and forced way to cheat on a spouse, and is perhaps more emotionally distressing than an accidental affair that occurred via months of flirting in the office.
People will never know the individual reasons that made each person sign up to Ashley Madison. Widower Eliot Shore has filled a £368m lawsuit against Avid Dating Life, on the basis that he signed up shortly after he lost his wife to breast cancer, had never cheated, and never met any other member of the site.
The Intercept also published a letter from a woman who used AM to find solace because her husband’s cancer treatment had removed all intimacy from their marriage. “I went on AM out of loneliness and despair, and found friendship, both male and female, with others trapped in terrible marriages trying to do right by their children.”
“1 out of every 2.7 couples is affected by an affair.”
The website perhaps also has an air of patriarchy. Despite the above account, its members are predominantly male, despite females being able to join free of charge. In reality, the numbers of women on the site who are not scammers or prostitutes are few and far behind. It is evident that more males than females feel that it is acceptable to join Ashley Madison.
I have seen one published account of an actual affair that transpired through AM. It was written anonymously in the Guardian. “If the hackers release my information, I will take responsibility for my actions and the decisions I have been making. I will embrace the consequences. I found what I didn’t even know I was seeking: a partner who makes me feel alive and passionate. I found love, and I couldn’t be happier in that respect. I could never go back to my old life and self, and I have no regrets.”
Research unearthed by the Independent discovered that 60 per cent of men, and 45 per cent of women cheat at some point in their marriage. 1 out of every 2.7 couples is affected by an affair. Society may have created a digitised universe to live out the wildest of fantasies at the click of a button. But society may have also constructed the idea that monogamy is the ideal relationship.
“Society may have created a digitised universe to live out the wildest of fantasies at the click of a button. But society may have also constructed the idea that monogamy is the ideal relationship.”
GOV.uk estimates that 42 per cent of marriages end in divorce. Whilst those who participate in open relationships and marriages generally report greater sexual satisfaction and lower levels of jealousy than traditional couples. Evidently, the idea of non-monogamous relations is still taboo and there is no denying that a cheating spouse can cause a high level of emotional distress. But, AM is catering for a large market that is clearly unhappy with traditional relationships.
The Impact Team are anonymous and unaccountable, yet they have attempted to dictate the morality of an entire society. They have no understanding of individual circumstances, and therefore consequences. They have endangered emotional wellbeing, financial security and even actual lives. They have acted irresponsibly and should answer for their actions.
Image: Abhishek Jacob via Flickr