Let me just quote you the first line of Wired’s article “How to Check if You or a Loved One Were Exposed in the Ashley Madison Hack“:
WAIT. STOP. DON’T do this. Don’t check these websites.
Obviously, people are.
Otherwise I wouldn’t be seeing people already snarking about (edit: I should have said “talking about” here instead of reacting from a.place of feeling judged myself.) certain “media personalities” already being found out as having an account on the site. (The same thing goes for the hack of AdultFriendFinder a while back.) Ashley Madison had forty million subscribers. AdultFriendFinder had sixty four million subscribers.
Even if we assume that all members of Ashley Madison also had accounts at AdultFriendFinder, that’s 26.45% of all adult Americans.1
That’s a lot of people.
But I think there’s one big reason you shouldn’t judge anyone whose e-mail addresses were associated with an account.2
It’s because those of you on the outside don’t know the story.
First, you’re assuming what someone else’s relationship is like. You don’t know what arrangements other people have in their marriages or relationships. You don’t know what spouses have agreed to – and they’re definitely not under any obligation to tell you. What people do in their marriages is between those people – not the rest of the world.
Second, you’re assuming that everyone who had an account did (or was even going to) actively do something in real life. Not all of them were planning to – because that’s the category that I fall in.
Yes, me. You can find one of my e-mail addresses in the leak.
And you can know my story:
After a devastating breakup, I was heartbroken and felt worthless. Suddenly single, lonely, and sad, I made accounts on both of those sites.
I didn’t do anything with them, didn’t meet anyone on them.
Why did I make the accounts? Because I was lonely, and depressed. There was a bit of a thrill of the idea that these people might be interested in me. I looked around, checked the site, saw some of the pictures that were posted, got a little thrill out of the possibility…
…and that was it.
If someone had tried to hit on me with the AshleyMadison account3, I don’t think I would have actually done anything. I try to be ethical in my behavior, and participating in someone else breaking their commitments isn’t ethical. While I’ve messed up with that before, it’s not something I want to do again.
Was making an account there stupid? Yes. Am I glad I didn’t even have the opportunity to be tempted to do something unethical? Yup.
But I know that even though I did not do anything unethical, there’s no distinction between my e-mail address and everyone else’s. And there’s no distinction for people who were acting with a partner’s knowledge.
So I’m not going to judge anyone else by whether or not they had an account on that site. As I meet new people, I’m not going to look them up.
Because I don’t know their story.
And I’d rather know them.
1 I’ll let the fact that not all accounts were in the US, etc, compensate for the fact that we don’t know what overlap there was.
2 Aside from the very real possibility that people’s emails were hacked. As they said: “The site also did not conduct email verifications, meaning unpaid accounts could be falsified.”
3 Though I didn’t meet anyone on AdultFriendFinder, I don’t find it unethical.