The Ashley Madison feeding frenzy

Earlier this year, I suggested that hypocrisy may not be a sufficient standard for outing someone as gay and that even hypocrites had a right to privacy, unless that hypocrisy had a tangible negative effect on public policy. Not everyone in the comments agreed with me.

A similar issue has been raised by the massive release of data by hackers about the users of the Ashley Madison website (that connects married people who are seeking to have affairs) has raised and generated a whole lot of controversy as to what possible public service is advanced by releasing details of people’s personal lives. The release of this data has led to all kinds of media stunts where people have been humiliated on air. It may also leave people vulnerable to blackmail and other personal troubles.

Glenn Greenwald has a good article that this interest in who subscribed to the site tells us more about ourselves than the people whose lives have been revealed. And what it shows, puritanical glee and titillation masked by a veneer of moral uprightness, is not pretty.

But whatever else is true, adultery is a private matter between the adulterer and his or her spouse. Except in the most unusual cases – such as a politician hypocritically launching morality crusades against others – it’s most definitely not any of your business. None of us should want (ironically) anonymous hackers serving as vigilante morality police by exposing the private sexual acts of other adults. Nor should any of us cheer when the private lives of ordinary people are indiscriminately invaded, no matter how much voyeuristic arousal or feelings of morality superiority it provides. We love to think of ourselves as so progressive and advanced, yet so often leap at the opportunity to intervene and wallow around in, and sternly pass judgment on, the private sexual choices of other adults.

It should be noted that having an extra-marital affair is not even a crime (except for those in the military which has its own rules). So the people using the site were engaged in completely legal activities.

At one time, the only question was what right to privacy public figures had. The privacy rights of private people were unquestioned. No more, it seems.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Unless one arranges one’s fling totally face-to-face, and is otherwise of no interest whatsoever to Official Snoops, one might as well take it for granted that the NSA knows who, when, where, and probably why.

    If one (or the other(s)) does somehow qualify for the Of Interest list, the NSA probably had one’s room wired.

    Will this new age of involuntary transparency lead to more cravings for privacy, more exhibitionism, or both?

  2. says

    Josh Duggar most definitely is a public figure of his own choosing (see also: the Bill Cosby depositions) who profited from the claim of “moral superiority through cheezus”. His outing is akin to the outing of Jeff Gannon aka James Guckert and various anti-gay mouthpieces caught with their pants down (e.g. George Rekers). Outing a shameful fraud doesn’t have to involve Schadenfreude, though it can.

  3. Nate Carr (Totes not an imposter D:) says

    His outing is not equivalent, however. The AM doxxing has done more than make ethically questionable yet legal activities public. LGBT people used that site in countries where such activities are punished with death. Sex workers used the site.

    A lot of innocent people have been hurt. The revelation of Josh Duggar’s infidelity want worth it.

  4. mr.ed says

    Certain acts that could cause one to lose a job and go on the dole aren’t victimless. Kids, spouse suffer, and the rest of society gets to pay.
    Gov’t employees are worse off because they sign morality pledges and will lose their jobs. Many private employees will also lose, too because of their indiscretions. Getting fired for cause is a broad ranging problem.
    This will have more repercussions than you can perceive at first.
    The divorce lawyers now have a limitless income stream.

  5. Lassi Hippeläinen says

    Pierce R. Butler: “If one (or the other(s)) does somehow qualify for the Of Interest list, the NSA probably had one’s room wired.”
    NSA knows your sexual preferences simply by checking how your web browsing is clustered. That includes everybody in Washington D.C. NSA can get all the money they want, because they know who is a closet *.

  6. says

    except for those in the military which has its own rules

    Yeah…I heard that this morning (that they have a rule against adultery). Is that because the military tends to be even more puritanical/regressive than the rest of society? (There was news about women finally now in 2015 passing the Army Ranger trials…or something like that.) I guess what I’m really trying to say here is that I’d be really, really curious as to the military’s justification for their rule.

  7. DonDueed says

    Mano, you’re incorrect when you state that adultery is not a crime. There are 21 states that have adultery laws on the books, though they are rarely enforced. It’s questionable whether a conviction under such laws would pass a serious challenge, but who would bother since the penalties are pretty minimal in most cases?

    As to the military, I imagine that the rule against adultery has to do with security. A soldier (especially a high ranking one) could be blackmailed to reveal secrets under threat of having their affair made public.

  8. Nate Carr (Totes not an imposter D:) says

    And Saudi Arabia is using the leaked information to arrest LGBT people.

  9. corwyn says


    As to the military, I imagine that the rule against adultery has to do with security. A soldier (especially a high ranking one) could be blackmailed to reveal secrets under threat of having their affair made public.

    Showing that once again the military doesn’t understand security? If you put a penalty on behavior you INCREASE the likelihood that someone will be blackmailed. Duh.

  10. Sean (I am not an imposter) says

    The issue with the military is one of morale. If an officer has sex with the spouse of an enlisted person, it is easy to see how that might lead to problems particular if the enlisted person seeks revenge. The same goes for the spouse of a civilian. Adultery is not a victimless crime but any attempts to prosecute it or make it public only increases the damage, pretty much like drug prohibition, only different. It is almost always better to keep it secret and let the people involved sort it out.

    Hypocrisy is expected with the political class so I see little value in exposing the obvious at the risk of injuring millions of fallible humans making a mistake with their lives.

    The people outing the users of that site are way nastier sleazebags than the guy who started it.

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