The Ashley Madison Hack & The Bloodsport of Online Humiliation

On July 15, 2015, the Ashley Madison website was hacked, stealing all of the customer data- the emails, names, home addresses, credit  card numbers and sexual fantasies of the users of the site. They threatened to release this information to the public, and in August, they made good on that threat. Suddenly, everyone knew who had been cheating. Instead of being a quiet, behind-doors, affair, it was available for the entire world to see.

Let’s back up a little bit. Ashley Madison is a “Canada-based online dating service and social networking service marketed to people who are married or in a committed relationship. Its slogan is ‘Life is short. Have an affair.'” Millions of people, men and women, used the website to commit infidelity. It seemed perfect- a place where everyone wanted to cheat? An easy way to hide it? That came crashing down when hackers got a hold of all the customer’s private information.

The public’s fascination with seeing who has been cheating and who hasn’t speaks to a larger problem that Monica Lewinsky identified in this eloquent TedTalk: Online humiliation has become a bloodsport. It’s this morbid fascination that we have- we know that we shouldn’t be taking pleasure in someone else’s shame, but we can’t stop ourselves from looking.

It truly isn’t any of our business who was on the Ashley Madison site, unless they were someone that we were romantically involved with. Infidelity is a very personal matter, meant to be handled between the people affected. Using other people’s infidelity to gain “clicks”, or likes on an article, isn’t fair to them. It’s further humiliating someone who is already embarrassed. It can lead to disastrous consequences- like two men taking their own lives.

Now, I am not advocating for infidelity to be excused. It’s beyond hurtful to the person that was cheated on, and each partnership has to navigate the aftermath in the way they feel is most beneficial to them. But it’s not up to us to comment on and discuss these cases of infidelity. We don’t know these people, or their relationship. We can’t know how they are feeling, and to try to garner “clicks” or “likes” at their expense shows a level of insensitivity that frankly we should be embarrassed to possess.

When you’re on the other side of the computer screen, it’s hard to remember that that person that is the headline in a newspaper article or in a compromising video is a person. They have families, friends, goals, dreams. But they are more than their mistake. It’s time to stop using other’s public humiliation for our personal amusement.

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