Fallout from the Ashley Madison hack

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.”


  1. says

    it is hard to condemn them

    Why is it even hard?

    Seriously: promises they made to other people, and whether someone keeps those promises or not, is relevant to another person, how? Unless the promise is somehow relevant to me, it’s none of my business. It doesn’t matter whether a person promised their sexuality to someone else, whether they promised to diet for someone else, or whether they promised to wash the dishes all week -- getting over our insane level of concern about other people’s sexuality is something this society really needs to work on.

  2. mnb0 says

    “I encourage people to read the stories.”
    Thanks, but no thanks. I’m not very interested in the personal lives of totally unknown people -- and not famous people either. That includes for instance Josh Duggar.
    I wouldn’t like it either if people dug into the dark sides of my personal life either. Golden Rule, you know.

  3. raven says

    PSA Announcement.

    Ashley Madison isn’t the only personals site to be hacked. Just the latest. I’m sure they all will be sooner or later. If you don’t want it on the front pages of the internet, don’t post it.

    I however, am not the least bit worried about being hacked. Because it has already happened. No, it wasn’t Ashley Madison. One of my insurance companies cheerfully informed me that they were hacked and lost a lot of info. But don’t worry. They take customer confidentiality very seriously and it won’t happen again until it happens again.

  4. says

    One of my insurance companies cheerfully informed me that they were hacked and lost a lot of info. But don’t worry. They take customer confidentiality very seriously and it won’t happen again until it happens again.

    Oh, and, if they paid a fine, they paid it to the government in return for being indemnified from any harm done to you -- their customer -- by their negligence. See? They’re looking out for you!!! Of course if you have a problem with identity theft, you can take that up with…. um… nobody.

  5. lanir says

    I’m not too interested in reading other people’s circumstances for being on sites like that. I already assume they have reasons and that those reasons are completely valid and acceptable to me until proven otherwise. And when I’ve had a partner cheat on me? Not a time when I wanted an audience.

    This just fits right into the pseudo-religious moralizing that goes on in our culture around anything to do with sex. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the subcultures who want to enact legislation to control female bodies or who tend to think less about equal pay for equal work are the ones with sexual hang-ups.

    Whenever I hear someone stridently calling out about sex or abortion or any of these sorts of things I no longer hear the words they’re saying, all I hear is “I’m better than you, I’m better than you, I’m better than you!” And it just repeats while they desperately try to convince themselves it’s true.

  6. says

    I can’t form an opinion on the outing of paid members. Saying “no one but yourself to blame” is too unfair but saying “they weren’t committing crimes” excuses their actions.

    What I have been watching and enjoying is learning how big a fraud the whole site was. The site’s creators knew they weren’t going to get many women subscribers, but they likely didn’t know how few. It became a Madoff-like ponzi scam, creating ever growing numbers of fake profiles to cover the ever growing male-female disparity. At some point, the whole thing would have collapsed, even without the release of hacked data. This will probably save the victims’ and potential victims’ money in the long run.

    The questions on my mind are:

    (a) Will customers sue for their money back or try chargebacks on their credit cards?

    (b) Will the US government investigate the site for fraud (e.g. RICO)?

  7. says

    @1 “Seriously: promises they made to other people, and whether someone keeps those promises or not, is relevant to another person, how? ”

    If they start making promises to you, perhaps? You may want to know how trustworthy they are. That said, I wouldn’t look to closely at such promises in making such an evaluation knowing that they’re more culturally forced and not necessarily realistic.

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