Monday, July 27, 2015

Our Cheatin' Hearts

I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.

I have lived and traveled throughout the United States. I have visited numerous foreign countries. I have served in the military.

I have practiced the craft of journalism for nearly 50 years, which requires a finely honed dose of skepticism.

I have been involved in the coverage of thousands of stories. I have seen and heard it all. Nothing surprises me. At least so I thought.

Then I read this past week that an Internet site that caters to married folks on the prowl for extramarital affairs had been hacked. Revelations are threatened. Fear and loathing ensues.

The existence of the website is no surprise. The Internet is full of enough decadence and depravity to make the Marquis de Sade blush.

What caused my jaw to bounce off my chest is that the site, called Ashley Madison, claims to have nearly 38 million subscribers in the U.S. and several foreign countries. You read that right: 38 million. Just for the sake of comparison, there are 68 million married couples in the U.S.

Apparently, there’s a whole lot of cheatin’ going on.

Or not. There are a lot of ways to look at this: (1) The website has greatly exaggerated the number of clients or (2) many who go on to the website are curiosity seekers who don’t indulge in actual adultery. Or (3), 30 million of the subscribers are teen-age boys who are getting their jollies on the Internet.

Of course, there is also (4) we are a morally corrupt people who preach devotion while practicing deviousness.

The answer is probably (5) all of the above.

According to several published articles, cheating isn’t cheap.

The site offers a guarantee that you will find someone: "We guarantee that you will successfully find what you’re looking for or we'll give you your money back.”

However, the guarantee is so restricted by conditions—one must buy the most expensive package, send "priority" (more expensive) messages to 18 unique members each month for three months, send 5 Ashley Madison gifts per month, and engage in 60 minutes of (paid) chat per month,—that qualifying for it is  difficult and expensive.

And, cha ching, female members are allowed to send "collect messages" that male members must pay for in order to read them.

Making this somewhat less than user friendly is that "more men than women use the service, with the disparity increasing as they advance in age," and "Men seek sex, while women seek passion.” 

What’s most astonishing about all of this is that are 38 million people who have no problem giving up their credit card numbers, sexual proclivities and adulterous intent to a bunch of strangers running a website.  What could possibly go wrong?

Something did.

A group of hackers called The Impact Team reportedly has posted some data already and is demanding that parent company Avid Life Media, shut down Ashley Madison and a sister site,, according to Krebs On Security, a blog run by former Washington Post reporter Brian Krebs.

In a manifesto obtained by Krebs, the hackers said: “Avid Life Media has been instructed to take Ashley Madison and Established Men offline permanently in all forms, or we will release all customer records, including profiles with all the customers’ secret sexual fantasies and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails.”

All of this raises a question: Does hacking an Internet site and revealing information about its clients constitute a worse offense than infidelity?

Perhaps these statistics will shed some light on the issue.

Asked about infidelity, 22 per cent of married men admit to having strayed while 14 per cent of women admit to cheating at least once. But 74 per cent of men say they would have an affair if they knew they wouldn’t get caught while 68 per cent of women agree.

So the fear of getting caught in flagrante delicto is a major deterrent. And what’s a sure-fire way to get caught?  Send your darkest secrets off to a sleazy Internet site.

In this case, perhaps hackers hold the moral high ground. After all, The Impact Team doesn’t appear to be interested in financial gain or to have a political agenda. Instead, their purported motivation is moral outrage.

Interestingly enough, a 2013 Gallup Poll that listed behaviors and societal realities that included porn, gambling, abortion, polygamy, and the death penalty, 91 percent of survey respondents flagged adultery as morally reprehensible. It drew a higher rate of disapproval than any issue on the survey.

Instinctively, we sense that lying to and betraying the one person we’ve sworn fealty to is far worse than simply divorcing that person. Condemnation of divorce has decreased since 2001, but disapproval of adultery has held steady.

All of which proves that 38 million people can be wrong.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com.

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