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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Side Action Aside: the Real Problem with the Ashley Madison Scandal

If you aren’t familiar with Ashley Madison, the Canadian website self-purported to be the most infamous name in infidelity, then you might not be aware that last week, the personal information of nearly 40 million accounts worldwide was released to the public by the hacking group Impact Team.

Seeking to punish Ashley Madison for charging a fee to “delete” users’ data — a claim that Impact Team states is untrue — the release of the information has sparked a $760 million dollar lawsuit and widespread debate surrounding infidelity.

While cybersecurity is a due concern to anyone with internet access, the lawsuit and outrage points to the danger of the stigma surrounding cheating and affairs.

In the wake of the breach, two Ontario law firms have launched a $760-million — a fee some have joked the company couldn’t even pay — class-action lawsuit against Ashley Madison and parent-company, Avid Life Media, inviting all Canadian members affected among the 39 million accounts released to the public to join the suit.

While the idea of a class-action lawsuit is enticing to potential victims and subsequent beneficiaries, the problem with the Ashley Madison hack is that most of the people involved are distressed because they might be linked to their accounts.

According to a slew of press statements released by Avid Life Media, no credit card information or otherwise damaging information — read: information that could be used to conduct identity fraud — was released in the leak. Email accounts weren’t even verified by the corporation and could have been totally made up, hence all the fake e-women on the site.

Because joining the suit would potentially out them as a user, a paradox arises. If they want to be compensated for making the choice to join a site which subsequently had compromised cybersecurity, then they have to own up to joining the site in the first place. The problem therein is that people are afraid of being exposed as unsatisfied in their marriages, partnerships or relationships.

People get bored and cheat on their spouses or open their marriages to extramarital activities. Morally in support or opposed, it happens and the massive stigma surrounding it is detrimental not only to the creation of new, healthy relationships, but also to the personal mental health of those involved. Whether they be the unsatisfied partner or the spouse that thinks everything is all right.

While there were no suicide notes to confirm a connection, two suicides have been associated with the Ashley Madison leak. While everyone moralizes and debates the acceptability of cheating, which shames anyone involved, no one asks about the personal hurt that could arise from this leak or even acknowledges that this is no specific person’s fault.

In an interview with, one unnamed man talked about his experience on the site and explained his reason for using the service — which I’m sure others share. He’s simply dissatisfied with his romantic life: “I feel like that is the untold story of this data leak. How many people just aren’t getting a sexual connection they want.”

The man went on to point out that more people would probably be on Ashley Madison if they had the “balls or money” to do it. In noting that they need testicular support to sign up for a website, Unnamed Horny Dude unfortunately just furthered the stereotype that people generally frown upon.

Long story short: people should be upset that their information was stolen; that’s not cool. They shouldn’t be upset because it was stolen from a website that they feel bad about being on.

Obviously, others are going to shame them and that’s a larger societal conversation we must have. But no reputation or human life is worth losing over a little side action — whether it actually happened or not. The stigma associated with infidelity won’t ever fully dissipate, but in the meantime, it’s important to acknowledge that differing perspectives exist and dirty little secrets shouldn’t have to be quite so dirty.

Follow Nick Havey on Twitter.

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