So this just happened. Ashley Madison’s servers have been hacked, and some self-appointed moral vigilantes stand poised to embarrass thousands and thousands of people who’ve paid for Ashley Madison memberships.
I don’t have an enormous amount to say here, except to quote from the hackers’ own communications: they write:
Avid Life Media has been instructed to take Ashley Madison and Established Men offline permanently in all forms, or we will release all customer records, including profiles with all the customers’ secret sexual fantasies and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails. The other websites may stay online…. Too bad for those men, they’re cheating dirtbags and deserve no such discretion. Too bad for ALM, you promised secrecy but didn’t deliver. We’ve got the complete set of profiles in our DB dumps, and we’ll release them soon if Ashley Madison stays online. And with over 37 million members, mostly from the US and Canada, a significant percentage of the population is about to have a very bad day, including many rich and powerful people.
I don’t imagine that my thoughts on this are particularly surprising. I’m not sympathetic to the aims of the hackers, which seem to be to impose their morality on me (and you, and everyone else). I’m not sympathetic to their tactics, which are both illegal and cruel. I am sympathetic to the (presumably significant number of) people who fear being exposed, whether to their spouses, or to their bosses, friends, extended families, and so on.
But let me say this, too: this seems to be an act driven by pain. Whoever did this has felt badly betrayed and seeks redress not from the person or people who betrayed them, but from all of those who might be guilty of the same violation. I feel for the hackers’ pain, even if I deplore their actions. And, their misogynist (and inaccurate) assumption that the only cheaters on AM are (were?) men. I myself have had two or three delightful encounters via AM – one, with a single woman, and one, with a woman pondering whether to leave her relatively un-serious boyfriend.
Even if you believe that all “cheaters” deserve to be exposed (which I don’t), it’s worth remembering that not all who advertise on Ashley Madison are cheaters. And, that there are infinite gradations of “adultery.” There are those of us who do it with our spouses’ full knowledge and approval. There are those who do it with tacit approval. There are those who do it believing they have approval, but who are mistaken. There are those who do it dissociatively, unaware on many levels what they are doing is cheating.
A reductive approach to morality serves no one well, and this is a sad story – one that’s only going to get worse.