Scorned Spouses Cheer Ashley Madison Hack

Spouses are taking to online ‘infidelity survival’ forums after finding their partners’ names in the massive Ashley Madison data dump.

08.20.15 5:13 AM ET

If there’s one corner of the Internet to keep your eye on in the wake of the Ashley Madison data dump, it’s Surviving Infidelity (SI). As one of the largest and longest-running communities for people with cheating partners and spouses, SI is already feeling the impact of the massive hack. Nowhere else will you find a group of people more devastated by Ashley Madison, nor more jubilant about its misfortune.

On Tuesday, a group of hackers calling themselves the Impact Team made good on their late July threat against Avid Life Media and released 10 gigabytes of user data from the extramarital dating website Ashley Madison, including 36 million user email addresses. Initially released on the Deep Web, the data is only now beginning to surface online in more easily searchable forms.

On Wednesday morning, one poster calling herself DevastatedMother has already turned to SI for help, claiming that a friend had discovered her husband in the Ashley Madison data dump and forwarded the information to her. She says that she has been married for 12 years and that she has two children, ages 10 and 4.

She wrote: “I recognized his e-mail address and picture, as well as his credit card information, which matched one [of] his. In addition, some of his messages were printed which said that he is in a boring marriage. I’ve been devastated all day. I searched for forums and found this one. My husband is due home tomorrow from a business trip, and now I don’t know what to do.”

Her experience is one that millions of men and women could be having right now as suspicions give way to Internet searches. Now that the Ashley Madison user data is roaming free in the wilds of the web, sniffing out a cheating spouse has become easier than ever. More discoveries are certainly forthcoming in the days to come.

When news of the hack broke last month, one SI poster predicted that the forum would quickly reach a new milestone: “I have a feeling that the 50,000th person joining here at SI is coming sooner than we think.”

With today’s news, SI is anticipating even more growth.

The man who co-founded the website—who requested to be identified by his username MangledHeart—told The Daily Beast, “We are expecting a surge of new members as the data become more available to the public.”

On the SI forums, members talk in detail about every aspect of infidelity: discovery, betrayal, divorce, newly single life, reconciliation. The website was launched in 2002—one year after Ashley Madison—by MangledHeart and his wife, who had previously worked through the latter’s extramarital affair with the help of another online community. Since then, SI has grown into a premier web destination for scorned spouses—and some penitent cheaters—with up to 10,000 users visiting daily.

MangledHeart calls the site “cyclical by nature,” with veteran members remaining in the community to help newcomers like DevastatedMother process and heal from their experiences.

“We have been told many times over the years that not only saved peoples’ marriages, it has also saved lives,” he told The Daily Beast.

The first things you’ll notice when browsing the SI forums are the abbreviations—dozens of them. Infidelity is a complex phenomenon that affects everyone differently, but there are apparently enough touchstones to warrant a small dialect.

One important shorthand is D-Day for “discovery day,” or the day when someone first uncovers evidence that his or her partner has been unfaithful. Frequent SI posters list their D-Day in their signature lines. August 2015 is bound to become one of the most common D-Days yet.

There’s TT for “trickle truth,” which describes the slow pace at which cheaters reveal details about an affair to their partner. The longest is ILYBINILWY (“I love you but I’m not in love with you”)—a refrain that many BSes (betrayed spouses) hear from their WSes (wayward spouses) during an EMA (extramarital affair).

Got all that?

“The acronyms can be a hurdle for new members,” MangledHeart admitted, which is why the staff compiled them into a helpful list for the uninitiated.

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But once you learn the language, something else becomes eminently clear: SI members despise Ashley Madison, and for good reason. The heartbreak that permeates SI does indeed provide a compelling rebuttal to Ashley Madison’s adultery-promoting tagline: “Life is short. Have an affair.” MangledHeart cites the slogan as proof that the dating website is “the very opposite of what we stand for.”

Ever since the leak was announced last month, SI has been cheering on its hoped-for demise.

“Well, my oh my. What a DAMNED shame!” typed one sarcastic member.

“Bravo. So pleased,” wrote another.

When asked how he felt about the Ashley Madison hack, MangledHeart stopped shy of condoning it: “While we do not agree with using illegal methods of interruptions of service or the exposure of private personal information, we do not share much sympathy for their situation.”

But SI’s opposition to Ashley Madison is more than just a philosophical objection. The two websites have a great deal of history. As one of the few forums that ostensibly does not want to attract new members, SI has had to welcome an alarming number of newcomers from Ashley Madison over the last nine years.

As one user recently wrote: “There are many of us whose marriages were destroyed with Ashley Madison being the main weapon.”

On Wednesday afternoon, another poster asked, “How many Ashley Madisons are we going to be getting?”

“Already here,” someone reminded him.

By now, Ashley Madison has more than earned its own acronym: AM. It makes frequent appearances in D-Day stories.

“I found out the hard way and found that WH [wayward husband] has an AM account. He says he opened a profile as a woman to see if my married friends were cheating on their spouses… but I find that hard to believe,” wrote one user in 2013.

“I had heard about the site before and couldn’t believe people actually used it,” wrote another woman earlier this year. “I remember talking with my husband about how horrible it was. I almost threw up when I found out he met the OW [other woman] on the site.”

Some SI members create fake profiles to message wayward spouses on Ashley Madison: “If he replies, I’ll set a date to meet him. Surprise!”

Even before the hack, SI members had already apprised themselves of all of the tricks for finding an unfaithful lover on Ashley Madison. As cheaters have modernized their tactics, so too have their partners. SI members know how to spot Ashley Madison on a credit card statement: Look for a charge from “ADL Media.” The “forgot password” trick that the media reported last month? SI users have known about that one for a while, too. Gone are the receipts and stray hairs of yesteryear, here are the days of digital sleuthing.

But SI members do more than just investigate suspected infidelity. First and foremost, it’s a support forum built for people who are experiencing a pain that is no less acute for being common—best estimates place the percentage of spouses who cheat at around 15 percent of women and 22 percent of men. Ashley Madison may be the SI’s archnemesis but posters ultimately spend more time helping each other than they do battling their rival.

MangledHeart told The Daily Beast that discussions on the site “typically remain active for days or even months as the original posters return to read feedback and answer questions as their situation evolves.”

As for DevastatedMother, SI veterans have some strong advice: dig, document, and wait a bit. Confront too soon or with too little information, they say, and a partner will typically deny the affair and delete the evidence. Above all, the community has made it clear that they know all too well how she feels.

“Welcome to SI, DevastatedMother,” wrote one user with a listed D-Day in 2010. “I’m so sorry you have to be here.”