20 August, 2015

Of course! But maybe...

Link to one of my favourite comedy routines...

So the people who hacked Ashley Madison and threatened to release their client list have made good on their threat.

"Made good." The glee has been palpable. I've shared in it myself. Cheaters deserve to be outed, right? And they deserve whatever they get. I said as much not even a month ago, and I stand by what I said. Of course.

But maybe...

There are over twelve hundred email addresses with .sa suffixes on that list. The penalty for adultery in Saudi Arabia is death by stoning for married people and  a hundred lashes for unmarried people. Homosexuality merits a death sentence (and at least one Saudi Arabian claims to have used Ashley Madison for hookups with men while studying in the United States).

Now, you can ridicule these people for naively believing they and their data would remain forever anonymous. But...the death penalty? A hundred lashes (which probably works out to the same thing, more often than not)? For adultery, let alone naivety?: Really?

ASHLEY MADISON DOES NOT VERIFY EMAIL ADDRESSES. So the data is suspect in some cases. Two other sites owned by the same company--one for "cougars" (older women seeking younger men) and another for 'sugar daddies'--ALSO had their client lists hacked and leaked. Neither site catered to cheaters, but the data will inevitably be conflated.

Furthermore, consider these cases:
  • People who made an account for research purposes (social scientists of all sorts would have a field day);
  • People who signed up out of curiosity, with no intent to actually use the site;
  • People who may well have intended to cheat on their significant others, but decided not to and have since repaired or ended their relationship;
  • People who created an account to try and catch a partner whom they suspected was cheating;
  • Thousands upon thousands of 'scam' fake female profiles (which have nefarious purposes of their own that don't involve infidelity); 
  • Poly people.
(NB: I do not have and have never had an account with Ashley Madison.) 

My first thought when I heard AM's client list had in fact been leaked was (of course) musical. If you're among my younger readers, you may never have heard "Escape" (The Pina Colada Song), the last #1 hit of the 1970s. It details the story of a married man seeking escape from marital boredom through the personals: the woman he pursues turns out to be his own wife. The song is pure cheese...but there are some real lessons about communication in there. 

From there it was a short hop skip and jump to wondering how many people like me may have signed up with Ashley Madison, which was founded in 2001. 

There are a dozen tiny poly-themed dating sites nowadays, probably more; also FetLife, which caters to anyone wanting anything, and OKCupid, which is easily the preferred online avenue for polyamorists. It wasn't always; polyamory is still a niche. But before OKCupid became poly-accepting, there were next to no online dating options for polyamorous people. And while polyamory is not about cheating, as I have said numerous times...the two are, often, the ethical and unethical sides of the same coin.

It turns out quite a few poly folks did sign up with AM with the full knowledge and consent of their partners. This leak will thus have no effect on their relationships...but it may well compromise their employment or some other aspect of their lives. There are a LOT of poly people who are not "out" in any meaningful way, because the stigma against this love style is just as strong (and in some cases, perversely, stronger) than the stigma against infidelity. 

Privacy is kind of like free speech...there seem to be many people who believe wholeheartedly in privacy so long as what's being kept private is something they agree with. I have to admit I fall into this category sometimes. It's occasionally useful for me to be 'of course! but maybe....'d' out of my sanctimonious little hidey-hole.

Is cheating itself ever justifiable? I'd have said no--I did say no--until I read this from Dan Savage. The whole thing is VERY much worth the read, but I will excerpt the part most relevant to my point:

Take a woman who has two children with special needs, who has been out of the workforce for 15 years, and who is financially dependent on a husband who decided five years into their marriage that he was "done with sex" but refuses to allow her to have sex with anyone else. The marriage is good otherwise, she and her husband have an affectionate, low-conflict relationship, their kids are happy and well cared for, but sexual deprivation is driving her out of her mind and threatening both her marriage and her children's health and security. What would you advise this woman—whose letter, coincidentally enough, came in today's pile of e-mail—to do? I would advise her to do what she needs to do to stay married and stay sane. (And until this morning I might have advised her to join Ashley Madison.)

I'm sure there are a sizeable number of people in such situations... dead bedrooms are sadly common. I'd still argue forcefully that communication is the way to go and that hopefully  some sort of arrangement can be negotiated, but as Savage notes above, that doesn't always work. So I've been "of course! but maybe'd" into accepting that as a last resort, an affair may be preferable to other action.

Regardless, we must put aside our schadenfreude and consider: AM was compromised by self-proclaimed moralists. What other behaviours. completely legal yet perhaps frowned on by some segment of society, might be next in line to be exposed? Any of yours? Are you sure?

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