Sympathy for the Devil?

In the last couple of weeks, the news has been alive with the story about the Ashley Madison site getting hacked back on the 12th July.  THAT Ashley Madison site.  The one promoting affairs.  Christian activities, politicians, government officials and even regular joes have had their details released online, been named and shamed by the media after Impact Team’s attack on the website wherein they stole and published  the details of over 33 million account holders.

I’ve had several posts show up in my Facebook news feed highlighting the stories of some of those who have been exposed.  A little research has dug up even more, like this story where two people have committed suicide over the release of their details.  The common thread of most of the stories I’ve read and all of the comments I have come across on Facebook has been along the lines of “well, they deserved it”.  Did they though?

Moral Duty?

I can understand people’s anger when figures they looked up to, such as Josh Duggan (he of 19 Kids and Counting fame) turn out to not practice what they preach.  Duggan is well known for espousing the ideals, duties and behaviours of good Christian families, and having an affair is certainly not one of them.  I would have thought though, in light of the abuse allegations against him, being a member of an extra marital affair website would pale in comparison, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Even lesser known figures such as Sam Rader, who surprised his wife with a positive pregnancy test in a vlog post (though there is some debate as to the veracity of that story) have been caught out and held out for public condemnation.

I understand the outrage, I really do, even if I do not share it.  These people are not living by their word.  It’s dishonest at best, lying to those who believe in them, cheapening their message and the beliefs of those who follow them at the worst.

But really, is joining a “cheating” website really the worst thing a person can do?

In Duggan’s case, is signing up to an extra marital affair website worse than the allegations of abuse?   For the average shlub who has signed up on the website and is now facing the wrath of their partner, possibly even that of friends and co-workers, is it right that they should be raked over the coals of social media for something they chose to do in their private life?

I think it’s time to draw some lines here.

Firstly, signing up to a website does not mean participation in the website’s activities.  How many people have Tinder or OK Cupid accounts but haven’t actually acted on any of the opportunities presented?  How is window shopping on Ashley Madison any worse that on OK Cupid, Tinder, Plenty of Fish or any similar website?   Who hasn’t thought of running away, or maybe having an affair when their relationship has hit a truly rough patch?  Sometimes the signing up to one of these websites is an act of escapism with no intent behind it.  My fiancé had an OK Cupid account for a while even after we got together.  He may still have it.  During rough patches, he may talk to people (women) on there.  I trust him and I trust that if he ever does, there is no intent behind it and were that to ever change, I would be the first to know.

Secondly, even if some of those who have signed up for accounts have acted on them, that’s between them and their partners.  It’s no one else’s business what they do in their private life as long as no laws are being broken, no harm is being done (I do not include the emotional fall out when I speak about harm, I am referring specifically to assault and/or battery or worse – emotional fallout is inevitable when trust is betrayed).

Let’s look back up at the sheer number of accounts – 33 million.  THIRTY THREE MILLION.  That’s a hell of a lot of cheaters.  Are 33 million people sneaking around on their significant others?  Maybe.  More likely, a large number of those are dormant accounts, window shopping accounts or singles.  Maybe a significant number of them are in open relationships of some form?  No matter the breakdown of the numbers though, the result still says one thing – there is something seriously wrong with a lot of marriages.  I don’t mean the obvious, that someone is looking to cheat.  I mean that one (or maybe both) of the partners in the marriage is that unhappy but doesn’t feel like they can communicate the reason and nature of their unhappiness, so they escape as best they can.

I love “Escape” by Rupert Holmes, it’s a fun song and though it haunts him to this day (people are always trying to buy pina coladas for him, and he HATES them!) the message in it is sound.  If you haven’t heard it, in a nutshell a man unhappy with his partner reads a personal ad in the paper.  In the ad the lady writer is looking for someone who “likes pina coladas and getting caught in the rain” among other things.  He responds to this ad saying that he does indeed like all of these things and would be interested in meeting her.  When he arrives at the meeting point he finds the girl who shares all of his interests is none other than his partner!  The song ends happily with them having a laugh and heading home together, but the reason I bring this up is whilst the song is cute, how much frustration, disappointment and heartache could have been saved if they had just talked to each other first?

33 million people on an affairs website, how many of them wouldn’t be there if they could just talk to their partner, say that they are unhappy and why?  Maybe we shouldn’t be condemning those whose details have been leaked, but rather wondering why those in monogamous relationships feel this need to “escape”?

Online Ethics

There is also another side to this.  No matter where you stand on the morality of extra marital affairs or cheating, what about the legitimate expectation of privacy of these individuals whose details were leaked?  What gives Impact Team the right to makes these private details public?  Why do they get to take on the role of morality police?  One of the reasons I have heard given for their attack is the good of the public.  How is this for the good of the public?  How did they make this call?  It’s certainly not done me any good, and I’m a member of the public.  It’s certainly not done innumerable partners and their families any good, and they’re members of the public.  Just who’s public was this done for the good of?

Let’s use an exposed conservative politician as an example.  Their details were exposed and now they are discredited, their family lives laid bare for the rabid media and the great lurking beast of social media outrage – what good has that done the public?  Before he was exposed, he was a staunch supporter of good Christian values and conservative thinking and a role model to many.  If his private life hadn’t been made public like this, he would have continued in these roles.  The fact that he MIGHT have been having affairs outside of his marriage without his wife’s consent makes him a hypocrite and a bad husband and a poor role model, but does it make his message any less true and valid?

I’m not condoning secret affairs and cheating.  I am fortunate in that my fiancé and I have a strong relationship with some flexibility in it, and I live and love with him confident that were that to ever change, were he to find himself attracted to another woman or unhappy in our relationship that he would tell me, and we would talk about it for as long as necessary to reach an accord, and I will grant him the same respect.  It’s happened before that the shape of our relationship has had to change, and each time we have talked about it until we fully understood and appreciated each other’s point of view and found a way forward.  It’s never been an easy conversation to have and there have been a lot of tears over the years, but the golden thread of our love and commitment to each other has remained strong through each iteration.

I AM saying that no matter the reasons that these folk had memberships to this website, no matter who they are, they deserve the same right to online privacy as anyone can reasonably expect – no matter the website.  A party of malicious, anonymous people have no right to take on the role of morality police for any reason, least of all because they do not like the website!

My fervent hope is that this whole debacle has opened up the lines of communication in the affected couples, that they are confronting why one or both of them were looking to escape, that they come to understanding and continue on together, or without each other, as they feel best.  I hope lessons about security have been learned.  I hope that anyone thinking about “running away” on a site like this thinks again and looks for another solution to their unhappiness.

I hope at least some good has come of this.

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