︎︎︎episode 37

Online Dating Special (pt 2): The Cheaters, Ashley Madison, AOL Screen Names, Murdering Monogamy, Pandemic Affairs, Flirty Fembots

April 13th, 2021

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How the Times Have Changed

This week I wanted to explore how the inception of online connections changed the trends in  monogamy in the 2000’s through present day.

So - Since the inception of chat rooms, the internet became practically a breeding ground for naughty behavior. We quickly learned - in the 90’s when we started to have the ability to chat and email with others that the definition of infidelity needed to be redefined to include consideration for online relationships. I remember this shift happening and a lot of conversations around it - like storylines on prime time tv which quickly became fodder for junky afternoon talk show drama like your Sally Jessie Raphaels. Do you remember this Amanda?

AOL in the 90’s I remember was this insane space to connect suddenly with anyone and it was the wild, wild west. There were no restrictions - I mean, Amanda, you have seen PEN15 - this was real. Parents had no idea that this was like a cesspool of potential stranger danger and most kids (myself included - particularly coming from a relitively sheltered upbringing) had literally no concept of this new weird world around them. My sister Stephanie would kill me if I didn’t mention this story. So in 1996 Swingers the movie rose to widespread popularity when I was 16 (BTW doesn’t hold up)  - it was also when AOL chat was sweeping the nation and we were all setting up our screen names. So I chose Swinger as my handle after this trendy word and AOL gave me some assorted numbers since there were already some “Swingers” - So I was Swinger689. Naturally from the Midwest in the 90’s and very naive we really had no idea that I basically had the ultimate chat name to get propositioned and had no idea that Swinger also was some other more sexual meanings. Everytime I was in a chat room dudes were always trying to take me into a private chat - i kinda thought that was normal - and i always declined because of course i had no interest in talking to strange men - I mean I am pretty sure I had my age in my profile - like I am 16 or 17 YO female so that was just kindling for the creeps.

Anyway - The newfound ability to covertly have conversations created a whole new set of circumstances and definitions of what “infidelity” means -  and even the more lazy or socially distanced cheaters had access to potential cheating options. So this definition had to include a romantic and/or sexual relationship with someone other than the spouse or significant other, which begins with an online contact and is maintained mainly through electronic conversations that occur through e-mail and chat rooms.

The Polls are In

Last year (so in 2020), a YouGov poll found that some 17% of users across all dating apps were there to cheat on their current partners.

More Monogomy Moves

There was an interesting trend in Monogamy happening in the 2000s - essentially before the early aughts and through the 90’s people 18-55 were more likely to have extramarital affairs than older people and THEN in 2004 the lines essentially CROSSED and it switched. And the older folks reported more affairs - and like quite a lot more - according to a survey done by Institute for Family Studies while the 18-55 severely declined.

So this was an ongoing trend happening -right on up to the pandemic - But then COVID hit and all bets were off and marriages showing cracks. Which helps me slide right into my main segment.

Ashley Madison - the online dating site founded in 2002 for married people looking to have extramarital affairs is reportedly having a boon year because of the pandemic. So you may remember Ashley Madison -  who had a seriously insane hack that destroyed a lot of lives in 2015. Anyone who remembers this may ask - woah are they still around? Yes, they are and doing quite well may I add.

According to Venturebeat.com who interviewed Pete Keeble the chief strategy officer in the very early part of the pandemic - like March 2020 - During 2019 before COVID, the company added 15,500 new members a day (globally). More recently, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been adding 17,000 new members a day. I don’t have numbers now but I can only imagine.

Keeble claimed that back in the 2000’s before Ashley Madison existed there was a trend in seeing users pretending to be single on these dating apps in fact up to 30% of the profiles were actually married people. Obviously, it isn’t a great user experience for these sites to have married people trolling them and these traditional sites would prefer they had an outlet as well...That indicated to the founder Darren J Morgenstern that clearly there was a market for this type of site early on - and it was BIG. So, he created a place where people could be a little bit more honest in terms of what they were looking for, and meet people looking for a similar relationship without stigma. So he founded Ashely Madison.

The name literally just comes from two popular women's names from that time period which is hilarious - Ashley and Madison are so 2002.

The best part is the motto which is simple "Life is short. Have an affair".

They made the site deliberately extremely suggestive and compelling to men - promising absolute discretion, anonymous and offering a great time - tapping into really primitive elements of the male curiosity. It clearly is set up to appeal to men as opposed to women you go to the site and it has that sorta strange kinda after-hours vibe going.  It definitely appealed to a certain type of woman as well and literally no judgment at all.

 Back in 2009 the Meghan Daum of the LA Times interviewed the CEO Noel Biderman who explained then that according to their user data and tracking info 70% were men and I quote “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.” He claimed there were a lot of looky-loos - men particularly setting up accounts but not actually engaging so that the ratio to men and women actually evened out to a 1:1.

Well many men (as well as some women mind you) - and lots of politicians and CEOs were frequenters - and all was revealed in a MASSIVE and i mean MASSIVE hack that stole not just all of its user data - emails, names, addresses but also sexual fantasies and credit card info. It also revealed that 32 million people used the site or at least signed up.

Now here is where it gets spotty -  If you wanted to delete your account - even a prank account (cuz you know boys will be boys) - you had to PAY them a $19 fee. And guess what. It didn’t actually delete your account or wipe it from the system memory!! Which is ultimately the moral reason behind the hacker’s issue - they wanted Ashley Madison as a site to come down because they lied to everyone. So they hacked and stole all the data and threatened to release everyone’s information to hold the site accountable - and Ashley Madison didn’t do anything so the Hacker’s released all the info to the public which was catastrophic. There were suicides, failed marriages, threatened careers. And people were harassed for years afterward.


So Annalee Newitz at Gizmodo did some data crunching when all this data was release as well and discovered a scam that Ashley Madison was running under the cover of some chatty flirty robots -  she found the presence of what she calls Fembots - 70,000 of them that worked as the ultimate sales force that targeted men specifically. When new men would come sniffing around the site and make a discrete account to kinda see what was going on - the fembots would jump into action and message them posing as a potentially interested lady. The unaware man would then pay the fee to respond to the fembot and get the service going. Apparently, this had a staggering 80% conversion rate - so 80% of these first-time account guys would fall for the lure of the fembots whiles.

On the Wikipedia page there is a note that: “In 2012, a former employee claimed in a lawsuit that she was requested to create thousands of fake female accounts attractive to male customers, resulting in repetitive stress injury. The case settled out of court.”

The numbers of the gender disparities are rather dodgy because it was harder to analyze that but some numbers said something like 14% of the total actual users ended up actually being women straight and gay.

Here is some of the leasked sensitive data: 

Press had a field day with this - and you would think that it would decimate the brand. But - they provided a service that was and still is in high demand and this was kinda a case of all press is good press. So this Chief Strategy Officer Keable explained: “Obviously, that brought our numbers down, but even during the worst moments of that period, we were signing up more than 100,000 people a day. The massive spread of media coverage — a lot of those people were signing up just thinking, “What is this, is this for real?” But we also saw revenues jump during that small time frame.``

In February of 2019 Ashley Madison hit the 60 Million members - which is nearly double the members from 2015 hack. So. there you go.  I don’t know their true ratio - they claim to have a more balanced amount now - I recently read 71 % to 29% -  but i mean you go to the site and it is clearly geared toward men. So I can’t imagine how they are getting real accounts at a more proportionate level.