Online Infidelity Hack Raises National Cheater Anxiety

Last week it was announced via KrebsOnSecurity that Ashley Madison, a website/app that helps married people cheat on their spouses, was compromised, with hackers threatening to systematically release the names, passwords, profiles and credit card information of AM's 37.5 million members unless the site permanently shuts down. The motives for this hack are somewhat unclear, as is the amount of data, if any, that has actually been released. All we really know, as of now, is that Ashley Madison is still online claiming they've got things under control.

Since the story broke we've seen a wide range of reactions (despite the current lack of actual facts on which to base those responses). Many folks are echoing the sentiments of the hackers, who, in their initial statement, called AM's membership "cheating dirtbags" who deserve the "very bad day" that is coming. Other responses have simply wondered why so many supposedly loving men and women would blatantly choose to ignore their vows of relationship fidelity, thereby putting their marriages, families, reputations, careers and more at risk.

But what about the cheaters themselves? How are they reacting? To find out, I visited reddit's Ashley Madison Hack Megathread, finding several thousand comments running the gamut in tone and content but essentially landing in one of three categories: anger; denial/resignation; and fear/anxiety/depression. I have pulled a few of the more illustrative comments, republishing them below, uncensored, because I think the language is important. (Just so you know, "Biderman" refers to Noel Biderman, Ashley Madison's founder and CEO, and "SO" is shorthand for significant other.)

Anger

  • "Mr. Biderman needs to put out new PR ASAP. Worthless douchebag. The longer he waits, the more of his $$$ we're going to go after through the courts regardless of how this plays out."
  • "If Biderman doesn't take care of this and anything gets out, I doubt he lives to see next year. He will have pissed off a lot of people by taking away all they love. I don't wish harm on anyone, but he knows his life and his family's lives may be on the line. Motherfucker, better take care of business. Solve this shit or shut down the site."
  • "We need to take charge. We need someone to represent us, the victims. We need a lawyer. This is a class action lawsuit."
  • "ATTN: Anyone that has preempted and outed themselves. Would you be willing to start a GoFundMe campaign? Let's put a price on this fucker's head."
  • "Taking down AM doesn't get the data out of the hacker's hands. Nothing will, but with enough money we can rub him out and redirect all of the pain and anxiety."

Denial/Resignation

  • "Right, I'm off for a good long drink. Nothing I can do, the die is cast, etc."
  • "Hey guys and gals. Call your credit card company and say it was compromised and get a new one. Tell your SO you were notified of a fraud alert on your card and had to get a new one. Then IF you find out you are ever on some sleazy list, and your SO finds out, tell him/her someone stole your credit card information, you were notified of a fraud alert and they used your card to get on to AM and assume your identity. Might work as long as your pics are not included. Just deny everything and show you were never away from the house long enough to cheat. Deny, deny, deny as long as you can."
  • "At this point the info is already out there. Might as well enjoy it. I'm online."
  • "Just to share my experience today: I was fed up with all this and decided to tell my SO about it. I don't like being held hostage by anybody. So I did tell her that I was a member of AM, browsed profiles and sent a few messages to other women. Her reaction was interesting, she didn't seem to be too worried. She just told me not to do it again. I don't know if she's gonna come back later with more, but she seems OK now. Puzzled! If she's OK with it, then I am fine. Don't care about the rest of the hypocrites."
  • "I appreciate the criticism toward the "Hey I was just clicking around" types. (I'm one of them.) It's no excuse, and I for one wish I had managed to get laid, because I might as well have. I'm dirty either way, and dirt is dirt."

Fear/Anxiety/Depression

  • "I don't really care about myself. I agree with the hackers now; I am a dirtbag. I suppose I probably deserve whatever I get. I am, however, worried for my family. Worried about my son, most of all, and what this could do to his life. I grew up without my father regularly being a part of my life, and my last wish is for that to happen to him."
  • "I just want some closure on this one way or the other. The waiting and the anxiety is too much to take."
  • "You're talking about people that will kill themselves if this gets out. I'll be honest, I'm one of them. This would drop a bomb on every aspect of mine, my SO's, and my entire family's lives. I'm completely serious when I say that my death would be easier to handle for everyone involved than trying to clean up the mess with me still around. I understand that I deserve to have my life destroyed, so don't bother telling me again, but this public execution will go far beyond just being found out within my family. I'm just sitting at work, waiting for the time bomb to go off."
  • "Well, another day of paper shuffling and looking busy while my stomach physically hurts and my head is pounding. I hope to get some sleep."
  • "I almost break down in tears every time I look at my wife and kids. The thought of losing them for a stupid mistake that never materialized into anything is agonizing. My hope is that she will believe if I tell her nothing happened, because nothing did. Hopefully the truth will be enough to hold things together when or if the time comes."

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, at this point we don't really know how this story will play out long-term. All we really know is that AM has definitely been hacked, and that lots and lots of people are uneasy. Furthermore, given the above comments, which I assure you are representative of the Megathread, it seems fairly clear that if/when the hacked information is released on a larger scale, the consequences will be significant and far-reaching - though hopefully not as bloodthirsty as some posters intimate. So, honestly, are we looking at a puff of smoke, or a full-fledged, miles-wide conflagration? Frankly, it's too soon to know. Only time will tell.

Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is Senior Vice President of Clinical Development with Elements Behavioral Health. As a well-known expert on the relationship between digital technology and human sexuality, he has served as a media specialist for CNN, The Oprah Winfrey Network, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Today Show, among others. He is author of numerous books, including Closer Together, Further Apart: The Effect of Technology and the Internet on Parenting, Work, and Relationships (co-written with Dr. Jennifer Schneider). For more information, please visit his website.