EntertainmentNetflix revisits Ashley Madison scandal: Lies, betrayal, and fallout

Netflix revisits Ashley Madison scandal: Lies, betrayal, and fallout

A scene from the series "Ashley Madison: Sex, Lies, and Scandal"
A scene from the series "Ashley Madison: Sex, Lies, and Scandal"
Images source: © Press materials

4:17 PM EDT, May 20, 2024

In 2015, a major scandal erupted when data from the Ashley Madison portal was disclosed. The hacking of this service had exceptionally painful consequences for its users because it is a portal for married individuals seeking discreet affairs. Now, Netflix has released a three-episode documentary series that revisits this scandal.

In the series "Ashley Madison: Sex, Lies, and Scandal," we find statements from former portal employees and its users. There is a couple who used the site to explore their sexuality openly, so the data leak didn’t harm them. However, there are also a couple who are supposed to be monogamous in theory.

Sam and Nia got married when they were very young. She was 20 years old; he was 24. Both are practicing Christians, which they gladly emphasize, and they have children. From the Netflix series, we learn that Sam created an account on Ashley Madison out of curiosity. He hid from his wife that he was interested in extramarital sex. We also discover that it gave him the emotions he lacked in his tidy, everyday family life.

The perfect marriage

The situation changed when they recorded a lip-sync video of the song "Love Is an Open Door" from the movie "Frozen." The video went viral, and the couple caught the media's attention. Sam admitted on Netflix cameras that this was when he received the attention he needed and instantly lost interest in affairs. Instead, he and his wife started a YouTube channel and began recording and sharing their perfectly appearing family life from that time on.

In 2015, the Ashley Madison site was hacked. At that time, there were over 30 million registered accounts. The hackers, who called themselves the Impact Team, demanded the site be taken down; otherwise, they threatened to disclose all users' data—email addresses, names, messages, and photos—. The heads of Ashley Madison hired the best IT specialists and offered a $500,000 reward for identifying those responsible for the leak. It was to no avail.

First, partial information about who had created an account on the site leaked. That’s when Sam realized he had to tell his wife the truth... or at least part of it. And that’s what he did. He admitted he created the account but never met anyone and never cheated on his wife. Later, the couple recorded a video in which Sam apologized to everyone, and Nia assured everyone that she had forgiven him.

He admitted to lying

Sam commented on the recording to Netflix cameras that it was mostly lies and that he was trying to cover himself.

When the hackers started disclosing more data, including the users' private messages, Sam was cornered and had to confess the entire truth to his wife. It took him several hours, and Nia recalls that conversation as a "nightmare" because it turned out that Sam had been cheating on her for years. First, it was massage parlors and strip clubs. Later, it was affairs, not only through Ashley Madison. Sam confessed to flirting with many friends and forming two emotional relationships. He claimed to have cheated on his wife with those individuals and tried to seduce two of her friends, but they refused.

Nia eventually decided to forgive him. In the Netflix series, both admit that they are happy the truth has come to light because it made their relationship more honest. The couple still records videos on YouTube with 2.5 million followers. They have already released a video to share their thoughts after the screening and promote their book.

"Ashley Madison: Sex, Lies, and Scandal" is more than just the story of Sam and Nia. The series also tells the shocking story of a woman whose husband lost his job and committed suicide after the data leak from the portal. He wasn’t the only one.

Destroyed marriages, broken lives—you might think that the cheaters are to blame for themselves. However, the creators try to prove that Ashley Madison preyed on the weaknesses of its users, who were often in failed marriages and frequently addicted to affairs.

Users flirted with bots

It turned out that Noel Biderman, the then-CEO of the company, who appeared in interviews with his wife and assured that he did not cheat on her, had numerous affairs. But that’s not all. Ashley Madison, which made money solely from men—they had to pay to send messages to women, while women had free access to the site—created fake profiles, and users, unaware, were chatting with the portal's employees or bots.

Despite numerous lawsuits, the resignation of the CEO, and many ruined marriages, the portal continues to operate today. It claims to have 75 million users currently.

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