As the users of the online affair site, Ashley Madison, scramble to keep their identities secret, a person who isn’t cheating on their spouse might ask themselves a basic question.
Why would anyone put their name and personal information on such a website?
Katherine Hertlein, Ph.D., a licensed marriage and family therapist who teaches at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, says there is a trio of reasons.
Users of sites such as Ashley Madison like the wide range of opportunity and have a false sense of safety that the Web provides them. In addition, rejection is easier to handle when it happens online.
The thrill of doing something high risk, she added, is not a factor. That comes along with deciding to have an affair in general.
“They’re taking a risk no matter where they do this,” Hertlein said.
Hackers Expose Ashley Madison Users
The Ashley Madison site boasts of having 39 million “anonymous members.”
Its motto is: “Life is short. Have an affair.”
It also brags that it’s “the most successful site for finding an affair and cheating partners” and it provides “discreet encounters between married individuals.”
The claim was demolished last week when a group of hackers released the names and other personal information of 32 million Ashley Madison members.
The data dump included names, addresses, email addresses, and amounts paid. Credit card numbers were not released.
The exposure, Hertlein and others told the Huffington Post, has caused the site’s users to either admit to their cheating ways or live in fear that they’re going to get caught.
A False Sense of Security
Hertlein said Ashley Madison subscribers as well as users of other similar online sites have a false sense that they’re safe from exposure.
She said they feel that because they have a login and a password, they’re protected.
“People think they have more control over these types of information than they really do,” said Hertlein.
She added that relationship cheaters will use a website as opposed to going to a local bar or hitting on someone in their community because there is more accessibility and more opportunity online.
You have a worldwide clientele to choose from and you can seek infidelity at virtually any time.
In addition, Hertlein said, people get the sense that they know other people better online because they have communicated with them over a period of time.
“They feel more connected,” she said. “They get the feeling that they know these people better.”
She added that people feel rejection is less harsh online. Having someone not email you back is less traumatizing than a person at the bar curling their lip in disgust.
There’s also the danger that the person you hit on in your neighborhood could tell on you. That’s unlikely on a website.
Part of ‘Online Courage’
The Ashley Madison users can be lumped into the category that some call “online courage.”
The facelessness of the Internet can make people do things like visiting a website or leaving a scathing comment on an article.
“You say things online that you would never say to someone in person,” Hertlein said.
Hertlein said this type of behavior, especially on dating or affair sites, has changed the structure and process by which our society has relationships.
What was considered inappropriate 20 years ago is now either less scandalous or part of the norm.
“It changes the level of the bar of acceptability,” Hertlein said.