No one likes a cheater.
That’s why the release of 32 million users’ data on Tuesday night, including email addresses, login information and credit card details, registered to the cheating website Ashley Madison by an anonymous group of hackers was treated with gloating smirks and praise that the deemed “whores” of our society have finally gotten what they deserved.
Yet since when does our approval, or disapproval in this case, of others’ ethical choices give us the authority — nay the explicit right — to violate the privacy of, shamelessly out and publicly ruin the lives of these people? As someone who has struggled with infidelity and supports open relationships, I am appalled that even in our modern, assumed civilized society, we have succumbed so much to the self-appointed moral police narrative that we regress backwards to the medieval action of stripping and exposing adulterers all so everyone can witness their humiliation.
We have reached peak sexual shaming and we are the ones who should be ashamed.
The justifying retort back is that these cheaters deserve the humiliation, but what is ignored is that infidelity is a flaw, a vice and even an addiction that is often out of one’s control. In outing cheaters, we proverbially put ourselves on a moral pedestal and simultaneously dismiss that we ourselves have flaws, vices and addictions too that we might very well struggle with and are ashamed of. In our praise, we fail to remember we are all humans deserving of mercy.
And in our gloat, we gloss over the harmful effects this hack draws for the future. The stealing and exposure of 32 million users’ street addresses, email addresses and payment transactions for the world to see poses a clear threat on what this implies for those non-cheaters. Privacy is already a matter of intense concern for Americans, and this recent hack in addition to the escalated series of Internet hacks (think Sony) recently sends hearts pounding even further that our online information really isn’t safe, especially when an adulterous site whose users expect the utmost stringent privacy from is violated.
Forget Ashley Madison, for a moment, and replace it with: medical records. Your full income tax returns. Your inbox.— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) August 19, 2015
In the midst of smirks and applause of the hack, we forget the damaging repercussions this scheme has on people’s lives. Professionally speaking, this hack has the potential to cost people their jobs as noted in the Washington Post how the 15,000 .mil and .gov email addresses listed could ruin someone’s career given that military rules state philanderers can be punished with one year of confinement and a dishonorable charge, thereby losing their pension.
And personally speaking, besides the uptick in divorces that could arise from this hack, what about the many children affected by this security breach? Are we willing to disrupt their childhoods and family lives because of some ruthlessly perceived moral duty?
And finally we fail to recognize that not all registered users are in fact cheaters. The hack does not distinguish between those who are secretly involved in an affair and those that are in consensual open marriages. The hack is attempting to ruin a person’s life who may not even fit the designated criteria.
While cheating is never a good idea, praising the blackmail as something positive for society works as an ethical contradiction. Celebrating the hack feels like it gives us moral authority over cheaters, but in reality publicly shaming another over their ethics only sinks us further down to their level.