Ashley Madison Can't Keep a Secret

It used to be that men and women would know if their significant other was cheating by the way they smelled when they got home. Maybe they were working too many late nights. Maybe they were taking too many business trips. Or maybe a mysterious voice called looking for them at home late at night and something just sounded off. In the worst-case scenarios, they actually got caught in the act. But in an age where technology reigns, it is significantly easier for the cheaters of the world to cover their tracks. On the other side of that same coin though, as we’ve all seen with the Ashley Madison scandal, there’s a huge downfall to hiding your infidelities online: just because they appear to be hidden doesn’t mean they can’t be found. And when a secret is able to cause so much damage to so many people, is it really a secret worth keeping?

Ashley Madison didn’t think so. Except someone else made that decision for them. Ashley Madison is a website where married people can anonymously meet other people, sometimes married as well, to have affairs with. It’s open to singles too, but the brand made a name proudly calling themselves, “the most recognized and reputable married dating company.” Everyone who visited was in on the dirty little secret; it was part of the appeal. The website’s main tagline says, “Life is short. Have an affair.” And as if that’s not cringe-worthy enough already, their logo is the shadow of a woman putting her index finger to her lip as if whispering, “Shhh, your secret is safe with us.”

Ashley Madison has done pretty well in terms of security and password protection since its launch in 2001. I’ll give them credit for that. Still, it was only a matter of time before a scandal shook the site free of thousands of dirty little secrets. After Ashley Madison took a big hit when it was hacked this August by a group that calls themselves The Impact Team, there was range of reactions from the public. Some said the cheaters deserved it, while others started conversations about how far is too far and when such an invasion of privacy stops being justified. Was it an act of hacktivisim or criminality? The site had over 39 million users. That’s a lot of angry people.

Naturally, spouses are the first that come to mind. Can you imagine finding out that your significant other, who you once thought was the love of your life, has been cheating on you? Oh, and on top of that, surprise! Now the whole world knows about it too. A lot of people say it’s a big slap in the face for the people whose identities got revealed but really, it’s a bigger slap in the face to the men and women who were married to them. Betrayals and infidelities are already embarrassing in nature without them having to be announced all over the Internet.

I can’t help but agree with the sarcastic Twitter user who said, “Who knew paying money to cheat on your spouse had consequences?” There are certain things in life you can’t make excuses for and cheating on your partner is one of them. It’s one thing that we’ve become this totally tech-consumed society that seems to want to avoid any form of human contact and make dating even weirder by throwing things like online and app dating into the mix, but it’s quite another to condone a site that promotes dating already married people. Instead of signing up for Ashley Madison, people should probably take a step back, re-evaluate their moral compass, or, like many long-lived relationships, actually learn to work through their problems  instead of just taking the easy way out. What a crazy idea, right?

With my personal rant on marriage being a lifelong commitment and not a six-month, one-year or 10-year thing out of the way, I will say that despite the justice the hackers may (or may not, depending on where you stand) have served, there is no denying the negative aftermath of the breach. Since the information of users’ was released, two people have taken their lives amidst feeling humiliated and trapped. While The Impact Team claims to have been doing society a favor, I wonder if they ever anticipated this tragic outcome. Did they want to teach the world a lesson no matter the cost? If so, my own opinion on the matter might change. If The Impact Team’s plan ignores the risk of people losing their lives, then maybe their moral compass isn’t as sound as they want us to think.

“We will not sit idly by and allow these thieves to force their personal ideology on citizens around the world,” Avid Life Media, the owners of Ashley Madison, said in a statement. It’s a tricky thing to write an opinion piece on something that you genuinely see both sides of. I would never want to find out that my husband is on Ashley Madison, but I would also never want someone I love to take their life because they felt humiliated and out of options.

It’s clear that The Impact Team feels strongly about marital infidelity. They believe that Ashley Madison users lost their privileges to personal privacy the moment they started being unfaithful. It kind of makes you wonder though, who is The Impact Team? Are their actions really coming from a good place or are they just as messed up and demoralized as Ashley Madison is for invading and possibly ruining the lives of millions of people? I have to think that when someone is extremely passionate about a certain cause it’s because they have some kind of personal connection to it. Is The Impact Team then a group of heartbroken, vindictive, extremely tech-savvy men and women? Did they see their best friend’s marriage fall apart because of Ashley Madison? In the manifesto they released they mention that Ashley Madison is guilty of creating millions of fake female accounts and that in fact, most of their users are men. Perhaps they are bitter former users. So far, they’ve done a pretty damn good job of covering their tracks and performing what many are calling a “sophisticated” hack.

Still, I wonder how The Impact Team is feeling right about now. Are they proud of the chaos they’ve caused? Do they just wake up in the mornings, hit the snooze button and go to work like everyone else, smiling at their co-workers, taking a quick cigarette break in the afternoons, with no care in the world? And more importantly, is their work really done? I get the feeling that people who call themselves The Impact Team have more than one thing they want to make an impact on. Surely there are other websites out there that are just as morally corrupt as Ashley Madison. I can already think of a few Instagram accounts I’ve had the misfortune of stumbling upon. If there’s one thing the Ashley Madison scandal did it was confirm what we already knew. The Internet is a vast, sometimes scary place and while it may be one of the best things that’s happened to our society, when it comes to nurturing healthy relationships, it may just be the worst.

FEATURE PHOTO BY MARKUS SPISKE VIA UNSPLASH