Today the internet is awash with fervor over the release of the Ashley Madison data.  With the announcement that Josh Duggar had an Ashley Madison account is sure to increase people’s interest.

Before the schadenfreude hits full swing, let’s consider what doxing really is.

The Ashley Madison users, while you may object on moral grounds to their behavior, have committed no crime. They are, in fact, the victims of a group of alleged moral crusaders – who use fear, intimidation, and blackmail to impose their moral agenda on others. This sounds a lot like the practices of anti-choice organizations, or the tactics used against the LGBT community.

Lillian Gish in the Scarlet Letter movie poster. In the background a young woman with a scarlet A on her chest. In the foreground a much larger male hand pointing at her.

What if the next “moral transgression” these hackers decide to “fight” is hacking an abortion clinic’s records and publishing those? What about a hacker group that opposes polyamory or BDSM and hacks the user data for those groups? What about a group that opposes women using birth control? There seem to be plenty of American politicians who would gleefully use that data to intimidate, threaten, and destroy lives.

Doxxing is more than modern public shaming, a kind of a digital scarlet letter. Doxxing is a method used to wage terror and harassment campaigns. It is a digital lynch mob.  And it is all too often employed against women to make all the rape and murder threats they receive all the more terrifying.  I think of women like Anita Sarkeesian, Felicia Day, Brianna Wu, and Zoe Quin. These women have literally been forced into hiding or forced to move and leave their homes because of doxxing.  Why were they doxed? Because these women dared to express an opinion on gaming and popular culture that another group disagreed with.  This is exactly what the Ashley Madison hack is doing.  A group of hackers don’t agree with what Ashley Madison users are doing, and this hacker group is going to use threats and blackmail to make them stop.

I know there’s going to a rousing cry of “but the Ashley Madison users are cheaters!” –

Consider this, membership on Ashley Madison doesn’t mean a person cheated.

Setting up an account and writing out all their deep, dirty secrets in semi-public space may have been as far as they went.  Or perhaps they set up accounts to meet people for cybersex, which may or may not be cheating because morals are subjective and arbitrary.  Maybe they considered cheating and got as far as setting up the account and then changed their mind.

I don’t know if swingers or other non-monogamous types use Ashley Madison (but even a cursory search for “polyamorous friendly dating sites” includes Ashley Madison) and those people aren’t cheating.  However, the release of their data will brand them as cheaters, and try explaining to your kid’s scout troop that you aren’t a cheater, you just engage in extra-marital sex (or maybe a couple is exploring a cuckhold fantasy)… I’m not sure which would be the more damaging to someone’s life.

Finally, even if someone is cheating, how is that your business?  Unless you are that person’s spouse it is NOT your business.


This hacker group is motivated by their sense of moral outrage, but their moral outrage is sexiest.  They sought to take down both Ashley Madison and its secondary EstablishedMen (a sugar daddy site).  They expressed no issue with Cougarlife.  I guess some women need to protection of this hacker group – but only those women they deem worthy.  So Cougars, have sex with abandon.  Potentially exploit young men (the way that a sugar daddy may exploit young women) – and it’s all cool  Uh huh. I’ve seen this double standard way to many times.

Here’s the problem with doxxing – it’s terrorism. It’s not bombing buildings, but it is one group using terror to force their moral agenda on another group of people.  It’s all OK when we support the moral position of the hackers, but what happens when we don’t?