I mentioned earlier my feeling that the hack of the Ashley Madison website and the dumping of all the information about its subscribers was not a good thing. These were the private activities of private people and there was no discernible public interest served by releasing this information. Unfortunately, people seem to have created new sites to help people use the database to make it easier to find people according to where they live.
There are reports of at least two people who committed suicide as a result of being exposed. And there are other reports of people combing through the site in order to out gay people or to attack their enemies or for the purposes of blackmail.
Now comes along a series of stories of people who used that site who explain why they did so. These stories are all from women. While it is true that the site did create a large number of fake female subscribers in order to lure men in, it is also true that there were a significant number of real women on the site and as a result of the hack have been subjected to a high level of vicious moralizing.
Jeremy Adam Smith tells the stories of five women he knows personally.
I’m not suggesting that a cheater is the same as a swinger is the same as a gay man, though certainly a person can be all three. I am saying that morality evolves, and so does our sense of who deserves empathy, compassion, and acceptance. In retrospect, it’s clear to most thinking people that gays and lesbians stayed in the closet because they feared serious, life-changing repercussions; we understand that the shaming and homophobia created lying.
I know lots of people in the Bay Area who have nonconformist sexual arrangements of all kinds; it’s part of our quaint local culture. They’re sadists and masochists and polyamorists and cross-dressers and orgy-goers and more. This might be why San Francisco, despite its libertine reputation, had the lowest percentage of AM users among America’s major cities. The city’s social freedom may also explain the relatively high female-to-male ratio. There’s no need to lie when you can just be yourself. My anecdotes suggest that at least some San Franciscans just used AM openly as a dating site.
But the nonconformists I know don’t reveal their true selves on social media. Why? Mainly because they’d face a lot of judgment from people outside their Bay Area social circles. For evidence, look no further than the puritanical reactions to the AM and AFF hacks. This righteousness, this dancing with glee over every violation of privacy, creates a climate of fear. And the shaming—or more specifically, the lack of compassion and empathy—creates un-truths.
Glenn Greenwald tells the story of another woman who used the site who explains why she did so. As he says
The private lives and sexual choices of fully formed adults are usually very complicated and thus impossible to understand — and certainly impossible to judge — without wallowing around in the most intimate details, none of which are any of your business. That’s a very good reason not to try to sit in judgment and condemn from afar.
As I acknowledged, there is an arguably valid case for such outing: namely, where someone with public influence is hypocritically crusading for legally enforced morality, holding themselves out as beacons of virtues they in fact violate, and harming others through that advocacy.
Dan Savage has more stories.
I encourage people to read the stories. The accounts of what made them drift to the site are quite sad and it is hard to condemn them after reading their side of events. They do not deserve to have their lives put under a public microscope. One of the people writing stories had a nice quote from Plato for those who delight in exploiting the victims of the Ashley Madison hack: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”