There are times when a tsunami of news events coalesce to create such astonishment that its very occurrence is unparalleled by its spectacle alone. Ashley Madison, the website for married people to search for affair partners was, until last month, parading almost naked on the internet until their owner, Avid Life Media, was threatened with exposing its user identities and financial and sexual information. Until recently, many people married or otherwise had never heard about the website. That is unless, your partner was already exposed for his or her marital affairs, pornography use or anonymous sexual escapades.
As a sex addiction expert, I have known about Ashley Madison and scores of other sites like it; its existence is old news. So, too for the scores of sex addicts who have frequented this and other sites like it in their addictive search for sexual excitement and secrecy. I’m used to hearing but not desensitized by the hurt and betrayal of partners as a result of a cheating spouse’s online dalliances. But, for millions of innocent victims they are about to enter a realm of exposure and betrayal that will likely catch them breathless, startled and perhaps stupefied if the hacked information does not hit close to their own bedroom. And, if it does hit close to home and in the bedroom, then their world as they knew it will have been paraded out in the public eye, online or perhaps thanks to preying eyes and seekers of prurient gossip.
Before the Ashley Madison hack, the seeking of sexual procurement or extra marital affairs was delegated to anonymous online apps, the hidden pages of Craigslist and video store trolling. In this post Ashley Madison apocalypse, online hook ups, sexual affairs and exploits have now been flung into the limelight, front and center for the world’s viewing pleasure and titillating scrutiny. Millions of people—97% being men- at the time committed themselves to eventual disclosure when they signed up for what became today’s outing of their deepest darkest sexual desires. Some on this list will lose their jobs, security clearance, marriages or relationships. Some will only lose their identity with perhaps little or no pushback. But, lest not forget the innocent victims that will be caught in the crosshairs. The children or other unassuming members of a family will have to answer to behavior that they themselves may have only just learned about and are still reeling from.
The rules of online engagement have been slowly decompensating toward tyranny since our society held tolerance for online bullying of innocent children’s sexuality. Putting personal or moral values aside, the exposure of the Ashley Madison identities ushers in a new playing field on the war for online security. When the Ashley Madison hackers threatened to dive in and expose millions of online users’ personal information, and then did so despite adverse consequences to millions of innocent, associated family members, we entered a new, lesser world and perhaps that was to be expected. As suicide bombers became more willing to sacrifice themselves in exchange for salvation, the rules of fighting the war on terror took a dramatic turn toward accepting that human life has been devalued by the terrorists. This online hack is no different; it’s an online assault and attack on innocent lives already caught up in the crosshairs of betrayal and addiction.