A Platform For Secrets

photo by Chris Sardegna

photo by Chris Sardegna

By: Abbie Kilgore

My Anthropology professor coined a term that stuck out to me. Serial monogamy. Having relationships with one other person, one after another, is what we believe normal American dating culture to consist of. But recent events concerning a dating website called Ashley Madison would reveal a new norm for its 39 million users.

At a glance, Ashley Madison is set up like most other dating websites. You create an account and get matched up to another person. Simple, right?

But this dating website has a very specific clientele: it hooks married people up with other married people. This site is a platform to find an ideal partner for your extramarital affair. Ashley Madison, owned and operated by Avid Life Media, requires basic contact information and credit card information to gain membership. As affairs are meant to be hidden from your spouse, this information, including names, was guaranteed to be confidential. Ashley Madison was the place to go if you were seeking a secret extramarital affair – until this website was hacked.

In mid-July, Impact Team (a group of ‘hack-tivists’) sent a warning to the employees of Ashley Madison. They threatened to leak the users’ information unless Avid Life Media shut Ashley Madison down. But the company refused to be compliant to Impact Team’s request. On August 18th, the hack-tivists leaked its first set of data containing some Ashley Madison users’ names, emails, and other information. Throughout August 20th until the 26th, Impact Team thoroughly followed through on their threats with several more data dumps. In this leak, 39 million users of this site were revealed. Although aliases were commonly used, credit card numbers cross-referenced with addresses and other data brought the millions of clients who were sitting in secret infidelity into the light. Among the exposed, they revealed hundreds of pastors, theologians, business leaders, and family-value advocates like Josh Duggar, for example. The results of this data leak are shocking to say the least.

Ashley Madison’s users were never supposed to be revealed. These users thought their identities were safely hidden behind screen names. And in that faulty security, anonymity trumped morality. When our actions are kept in the dark, do we change who we are? Sadly and commonly, anonymity allows us to enter into a pseudo-freedom. We have the freedom to decide our actions without a moral compass, but sometimes our choices lead to bondage. For the exposed Ashley Madison users, their decisions to either consider an affair or commit to one have led to the bondage they now face. The bondage of heartache felt by their family and friends, the bondage of losing a job or a reputation as a result of their behavior, the bondage of being found in the midst of their infidelity – the choices made were ones that enslaved.

The hack is both a blessing and a curse for those involved; true selves have been revealed to their families but the feelings of shame brought onto some users have caused tragedy. John Gibson, a pastor, seminary professor, husband and father of two, committed suicide six days after the hackers exposed him as an Ashley Madison user. In an interview with CNN, wife Christi Gibson and children, Callie and Trey, expressed their heartache over their loss. While they didn’t justify or excuse his actions, they showed unexpected mercy. Callie Gibson stated that, “the hardest thing for [her] to deal with is the fact that he honestly doubted that [she] would love him.”

John's doubt in her ability to love him regardless of his actions is what Callie struggles with. In the midst of a father and husband turning his back on them, the Gibson family was able to look at this situation, and see past his mistakes. But he couldn't understand that kind of grace.

Those who are still dealing with the heartache of infidelity should know that this exposure has forced them into the first step of healing. While comfort prefers us to be stagnant, every problem must be honestly confronted for it to be resolved. While this hack has caused an unbelievable amount of sorrow, it has also opened the door for true freedom found only in forgiveness.