She dripped of sin, blonde hair waving behind her as she headed for the meeting room. The adulterous heiress; marketing manager for a dating website that specialises in infidelity. I sat opposite her, as a student on work experience, and found it difficult to believe that this young woman could be considered ethically responsible for tempting men and women across the country to cheat on their partners. How could she be so happy? Seem so content with life? As a PR student one of the main questions asked by lecturers in class was, “Would you work for an oil company?” I knew in that meeting room that this blonde lady was my oil company, the oil company of breaking relationships, dismantling love, for profit.
Then there was me, contractually obliged to give her advice that would tempt even more men and women to give up on love. The agency I was gaining experience at was measuring the results of their campaigns well. In the last month we had driven 5,000 new user registrations to the debaucherous site — just how many relationship breakdowns did that account for? To me they were just numbers. That was my shield to hide me from the ugly ethical truth. Today I would be more vocal, protest and refuse to work on the account — at the time I was on paid work experience. I suppose it was a utilitarian argument; the greatest good was furthering my career.
I would also tell myself that surely the dating site couldn’t be held completely accountable for a relationship breakup? Something in a couple’s personal life must have happened first. That register button is just a button, no voodoo, click or leave it. Now that I’m 25 years old and surrounded by friends who have made the leap to marriage my view is less laissez-faire.
To some the internet is just a ‘hive mind’ of opinions. Others see the internet as a valuable collective resource that could enhance humanity. I believe in both of those things to an extent, but mostly the internet is data. When running digital marketing campaigns, I see ones and zeroes, behaviour flow paths that are typical of certain website structures. Psychology and code dictate 90% of online behaviours. The trick to running a successful social media campaign is knowing the data you’re analysing are real people.
If you want to help somebody cheat on their partner, make sure you are serving advertisements on the correct pornographic websites. Keep showing these images and videos multiple times to tempt a click. Contextualise social media updates to appear next to the correct arousing accounts. Redirect people without their input to registration pages. Let people use false identities and validate them using payment details. It’s the dark side of the internet and it will never go away.
That’s until a website becomes too big and a community gets unruly. It’s highly likely that one of the hackers who infiltrated the online cheating site Ashley Madison worked for the company; at least that’s what The Guardian is saying. They are holding the company to intellectual data ransom due to a disagreement with a line in their policy. Having what I would call an ‘informed ethical judgement’, having worked for a competitor of Ashley Madison, I hope the data does get leaked. It’s this side of the internet that only ruins the value of our lives and makes me doubt the internet can be a force of good in the world.