Publicly humiliating cheaters won't stop infidelity (but outing them online WILL hurt their family).
When the news broke yesterday that Ashley Madison — the cheater's dating site — fell prey to a hack, I felt a twinge of panic … and then let out a sigh of relief.
The panic is because I went on Ashley Madison as a cheater.
I entered into many-an-illicit chat session with women who wanted to hook-up — both emotionally and physically. I received nude photos from some women, descriptions of sexual acts they wanted to perform on/with/for me, and eventually went on dates with the women with whom I connected.
The relief I felt is because, thankfully — I was undercover as a "cheating husband," investigating the real-world reasons why women cheat … and the entire effort was with my wife's knowledge and consent. Regardless, I still felt my heart skip when I read the news about the site hack.
My wife knew what I was doing, but I didn't give her all the details of all the chat sessions.
Even though it was for research purposes and I didn't cheat, it was very difficult for me to share everything with her. I didn't hide, but I didn't get into detail. It was uncomfortable for me, and in retrospect that is probably part of why she and I fought so terribly during my investigation on Ashley Madison.
But the hack got me thinking: I'm aware of the inappropriate content of my chat sessions and mail messages, and thinking about how the details of those private investigative conversations could be outed to the world — to include my wife and my kids — is actually quite terrifying. What of the 37 million other cheating schmoes who are on Ashley Madison for real? What of their chat sessions and nude selfies and sexual requests for God-knows-what?
It brings up a very important point: Nothing is private. Not online. Not now. Not anymore.
Websites and companies feed the standard consumer marketing headlines, official-sounding Terms of Service, and über-confusing legalese that gives us a false sense of security — luring us into thinking that if we have a complicated password (or lock down our account, or put posts in a private area in the cloud), then we're safe. But in truth, nothing online is safe.
No matter what any site guarantees, if you post it … it's out there. You might as well be standing on a hilltop screaming whatever you just posted — or drank, or smoked, or did in a dungeon with three other people and a photographer wearing a panda suit.
In truth, these cheaters on Ashely Madison should have known better, as this is hardly the first time information regarding private communications and activities were illegally obtained. Facebook and email accounts are arbitrarily hacked on a regular basis (both of which are also used for extramarital affairs), Adult FriendFinder was recently hacked this past May, even the Sony hack shows that normal business communications isn't really private.
But this isn't just an issue of cyber security, where credit cards and private financial information are simply stolen and later used, exploited and/or sold. We are able to cancel credit cards and protect accounts. It's just money, after all, and with fraud protection any Ashley Madison user who was a victim of the hack is relatively safe.
The real vulnerability is exposure of what these people are doing on the site — namely all the chat content, sharing of sexual and emotional wanting, and documentation of cheating physically, emotionally, or both on their spouse. The only protection in those cases is a prenuptial agreement.
But we know much of this, at least intellectually. Cheaters know what they're doing is wrong, and it's basic common sense not to share too much information, lest they risk being found out.
That anyone would throw caution to the wind and over share such private information speaks to two things:
- The thrill and the rush is worth the risk of being caught; and
- The emotional and physical needs of those cheating are more important to them than their honor, integrity, and the promises they made to their partner.
Both are points I highlighted in my original Ashley Madison investigation on why women cheat and discussed with news outlets when the hack was first reported (watch the CNN report here
But perhaps the most disturbing trend is the condescending judgment of those who can't wait for the cheaters to face public humiliation and be outed. I'm not an advocate for infidelity, but it's shockingly sad to see so many people lying-in-wait for the certain destruction of many lives. Marriages might end and children are about to find out about their parents' exploits online. The hackers are offering vigilante justice, and the mob that is the Internet is more than willing to serve as judge, jury, and executioner.
I have no sympathy for the people affected by the Ashley Madison hack, you shouldn't be cheating in the first place — Nida (@yeahnida)
I can't imagine how shocked Ashley Madison users must feel to discover they've been betrayed by a site they supported and trusted for years. — Morgan Missen (@mm)
People are hungrily waiting to punish members of Ashley Madison with public humiliation, which is alarming.
These aren't people who put the public in danger … they're having a private affair (or at least trying to have one). How is this worthy of public shaming? It seems to me that these people definitely have some explaining to do to their significant other, but they don't deserve a flogging in the virtual town square with millions of onlookers.
The question on so many people's minds: Will Ashley Madison survive? From my perspective, it doesn't matter if they do. Infidelity has been around for as long as commitment. Ashley Madison built a business on that community, but the actual cheaters are everywhere and they don't need a specialized site to do it.
The reality is this — If you want your relationship to go the distance, you both need to put your best in.
But if your partner truly wants to cheat, then they will.
Why? Because people CHOOSE to cheat.
Is it because they're in an unhappy relationship? Or because they're frustrated? Or feeling ignored or unvalued? Perhaps. But they could always CHOOSE to discuss the issues with their partner (the hard work) instead of looking for a new relationship before they leave their current one (the easy route).
Discussing why you're unhappy doesn’t automatically fix all of the issues, but it does show that you're willing to handle things in a fashion that allows everyone their integrity and dignity.
Bottom line: If you’re unhappy, you can always leave. Just be sure you close one chapter before starting a new one.