A virtual community of cheating spouses?

I found this quite interesting – a virtual community of cheaters on an online dating service for married people wanting to have an affair. It started in the US and already has more than 5million members. It’s been around since 2001 but this is the first time I’ve ever heard of it! – Watch the video on theage.com.au. The website’s ashleymadison.com and all its members are anonymous. Its tagline is “Life is short, have an affair” and the online dating service boasts an “Ashley Madison(R) Affair Guarantee” of 100%.

This LA Times op-ed says “though its mission can be perceived as very wrong (for the record: cheating is bad!), the fact that it claims 3.2 million members suggests that it’s also doing something right.” More from the opinion piece:

“Some people say it promotes promiscuity,” he [Biderman, the dating site’s founder] said. “But if you don’t do it, you get behavior that’s way more harmful to society. Infidelity has been around a lot longer than Ashley Madison.”

And who would sign up for such a dating site?? The op-ed goes on:

By tracking information provided on user profiles, Biderman has been able to learn quite a bit about his clients, even if he doesn’t know their real names. Seventy percent are men, he says; among those who are “active” members (sign-up is free but you must purchase credits to interact with others), the male-to-female ratio is 1-1. The majority of the men, who tend to be in their late 30s to early 40s, are married. The women, who skew a bit younger, fall into three categories: the suburban housewife “who is seeking validation of her desirability”; the “quintessential mistress” who is not interested in a family life but wants things like trips and dinners out; and women who’ve been married only a short time and suddenly wonder what they got themselves into.

I think this ties in pretty well with Jenny’s week 4 lecture on problems with community in modernity…

It is sort of an “anomie” whereby it is an “erosion, diminution or absence of personal norms, standards or values, and increased states of psychological normlessness or eroded norms” (Weight, 2009).

It seems like it’s also a form of delinquency…where there’s a breakdown of communal institutions (marriages) and communal relationships among people, according to the social disorganization theory (Weight, 2009)

And there’s a bit of deviance as well, I think, because infidelity can be considered as an informal violation of social norms… and in this way, then, can I say that its members are socializing into a “lower class culture” because they violate certain norms? And if, like I – and I think most people – assume, infidelity is a ‘secret’ norm, are members of AshleyMadison actually delinquents who are “conformists within a larger subcultural setting”, like Jensen (2003, p.15 cited in Weight, 2009) suggests? Well, the anonymity of the website’s members would certainly make it easier for people to be deviant.

So is infidelity a norm in communities? I may be wrong…but I assume that it is a norm, just that it’s not ‘out there’ and exposed, and well, most people would not admit to cheating on their spouses anyway. This may be unreliable, but most statistics online say that at least 60% of men and 40% of women have an extramarital affair in their lifetimes (e.g. articles 1, 2, 3, 4infidelity statistics)

What do you think about this online dating website? Check it out yourself here… I personally think it’s outrageous… but I guess anything is possible now on the internet…


One Response

  1. […] Vivien has found a novel example of community formation for people wanting to have an affair called ashleymadison.com. A community of interest, clearly – one of the most successful types of community formed online, and another example of where community and morality don’t necessarily cohere. […]

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