Recently, website-for-cheaters Ashley Madison was hacked and the personal information of the members was posted online. It was schadenfreude on a massive scale. Mixtape Heart did an excellent piece of writing over on FetLife in response to the response.
Don’t Cheer for Ashley Madison Going Down Just Yet
If the Ashley Madison hack didn’t send chills down your spine, it might bear a bit of closer inspection. Let’s set aside for a moment all the other potentially sensitive information that was released apart from names, emails, and addresses – and that’s not a small set aside, by the way – and just focus on the basic doxxing itself. Even taking out the joke names and fake accounts, literally millions of people were just doxxed because a group of people didn’t like their life choices.
The group claimed they were doing it primarily to punish the company that created the architecture, of course, but they were also indifferent to the harm the doxxing could do to the customers, basically shrugging and saying “they brought it on themselves by signing up.”
Except they didn’t. It was done to them by a bunch of people who had the tools to find information that was supposed to be private and reveal it to the world. All because they thought the site promoted terrible behavior, and therefore justified any actions they took against it and its customers.
The fact that personal information – again, names, emails, street addresses and more – for millions of people was revealed for the internet to do whatever it wanted with that information. And all this is fine, the hackers feel, because it’s targeting “bad people” and a website that enables them.
Are you seeing where this is going?
Are you scared yet?
At this point I feel I have to make one thing clear – I don’t approve of the idea behind Ashley Madison. I think it’s crass and horrifying, frankly, and I’m glad that it was apparently flooded with spam accounts and fake personas, if only because that means it was less effective than it could have been. But as much as I disapprove of the site, that only makes an objection to the hack more important. Just like we have to vigorously defend the 1st Amendment rights of people we personally disagree with in order to keep speech free, we have to condemn this hack because of what it represents.
There’s a terrible temptation to forgive dangerous acts when deep down – or not so deep down – we feel that somehow the victim deserved what they got. We’re all human, and poetic justice appeals to us. A bunch of cheaters and wannabe cheaters have their secret life exposed? Serves ’em right, the two-faced bastards! Sure, we might make a few public noises about how it’s scary to think of what hackers can do, but mostly we just laugh at the cheaters and repost articles about how Josh Duggar apparently wasn’t content to be a child molester but wanted to double down with infidelity too.
Except we have to be really careful what we excuse, you guys. This isn’t corporate whistleblowing or a Snowden-style takedown of scary government practices. Those are controversial enough, but even the critics can acknowledge there’s something bigger at work, a desire to change society or force accountability when nothing else can do so. I suppose you could claim this was also trying to affect a change, but that would be like trying to take down Blackwater by doxxing all of its employees – even if you succeed, you’re creating a tremendous amount of collateral damage.
You can’t call information back once it’s out there, and you can’t control who will use or it how they’ll do it. Abusive spouses might find partners who got away from them. Stalkers could mine it for targets. Jealous partners could get violent. And that’s not even counting the cases of mistaken identity – or someone whose identity was used without their knowledge – and all the harm that can come from them.
We can’t simply wave those things away. There are people behind this information dump. People with families, jobs, lives. Yeah, I’m sure a whole lot of legitimate cheaters just got outed. But if you’re comfortable with how it happened, you need to stop and think very carefully about where that path leads.
Because next time it could very easily be our names and information out there. Let’s face it, we sometimes have problems being outed by members of our own community – now imagine everything you ever posted and hosted here was put in a file for the whole internet to fawn over. I’m sure some of you are working behind several layers of anonymity and would survive that just fine, and others are totally out about their lifestyle and would shrug at being “outed”, but I’m equally sure that a lot of people aren’t either of those things.
Let me repeat it, for it bears repeating – if we allow that a small group people disapproving of behavior promoted on a website is sufficient reason to take down that site and doxx all its users, we’re in deep fucking trouble.
So don’t give in to that impulse to excuse it just because it feels like poetic justice, or because it proved that some celebrity you hate is even more of a hypocritical dirtbag than you previously imagined. You don’t have to approve of the site or its patrons, but unless you want the world to shrug when another group turns its eyes towards a site like this and decides we don’t deserve privacy because of what we do, don’t condone it either.
We’re better than this.
Let’s prove it.
The original post (and much discussion in the comments) is here.