The Puritanical Glee Over the Ashley Madison Hack

Published on
by

The Puritanical Glee Over the Ashley Madison Hack

None of us should cheer, writes Greenwald, 'when the private lives of ordinary people are indiscriminately invaded, no matter how much voyeuristic arousal or feelings of morality superiority it provides.'

High school students have long read The Scarlet Letter, the 1850 novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne set in a Puritanical Massachusetts town in the mid-17th Century. It chronicles the life of a woman who is found to have committed adultery (on her long-presumed-lost-at-sea husband); as punishment, she is forced to stand before her village with the letter “A” attached to her dress. The intent is to forever publicly shame her for her moral transgression. As The Atlantic noted in 1886, “the punishment of the scarlet letter is a historical fact.”

The moral premise of that ritual, its animating righteousness, is by no means an obsolete relic of the Puritanical era. It is as vibrant as ever. Busybodies sitting in judgment of and righteously condemning the private, sexual acts of other adults remains one of the most self-satisfying and entertaining – and thus most popular – public spectacles. It simultaneously uplifts the moral judges (I am superior to that which I condemn), distracts them from their own behaviors (I am focused on those other people’s sins, and thus not my own), and titillates (to condemn this, I simply must immerse myself in the tawdry details of their sexual acts). To see just how current is the mentality driving the Scarlet Letter, observe the reaction to the Ashley Madison hack.

Anonymous hackers yesterday published a massive trove of data containing private information about roughly 33 million people from around the world. The data was hacked from the website Ashley Madison, which promotes itself as a pro-infidelity venue where married people can find sexual partners and “have an affair.” The data published by the hackers includes the names, physical and email addresses, and credit card purchases provided by the users, along with whatever information they posted about their sexual desires and proclivities.

The primary justification offered by the hackers was that the site is a scam. The hackers complain that most of the female profiles were fake (a claim that has some evidence), and that the site demanded a payment of $19.99 in exchange for the unfulfilled promise to permanently delete users’ profiles and personal data. When the hackers last month announced their hack, they portrayed themselves as fraud-fighting vigilantes: they threatened to release all of the users’ data unless the site owners removed the site completely.

But there was also a significant component of sexual moralism to the hacker’s self-described mission. In their original manifesto, they echoed the moral paternalism offered by Gawker’s Max Read to justify his site’s outing of an obscure married financial officer of a magazine company. The hackers proclaimed: “Too bad for those men, they’re cheating dirtbags and deserve no such discretion.” In yesterday’s statement announcing their data dump, the hackers directly lectured the users they were exposing with this sermon: “Learn your lesson and make amends. Embarrassing now, but you’ll get over it.”

That the cheating scoundrels of Ashley Madison got what they deserved was a widespread sentiment yesterday. Despite how common both infidelity and online pornography are, tweets expressing moralistic glee were legion.

Read the full article at The Intercept.

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, constitutional lawyer, commentator, author of three New York Times best-selling books on politics and law, and a staff writer and editor at First Look media. His fifth and latest book is, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, about the U.S. surveillance state and his experiences reporting on the Snowden documents around the world. Prior to his collaboration with Pierre Omidyar, Glenn’s column was featured at Guardian US and Salon.  His previous books include: With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the PowerfulGreat American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican PoliticsA Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism, a George Polk Award, and was on The Guardian team that won the Pulitzer Prize for public interest journalism in 2014.

Share This Article