OPINION: Good riddance to Ashley Madison

Over the weekend, the Media Development Authority (MDA) made a sudden move to ban affair site Ashley Madison.

Here’s the statement it sent to all media:

“The Government adopts a pragmatic and light-touch approach to regulating Internet content.  The Internet Code of Practice allows MDA to work with Internet Service Providers to block certain sites which contain prohibited content. We recognize that site blocking is not a perfect way of denying access to prohibited content, as it can be circumvented.  Besides, there are many sites with undesirable content on the Internet and it is not practical to block every one of them.  The Media Development Authority (MDA) therefore blocks a limited number of sites as a symbolic statement of the types of content which the community is opposed to.

The Ashley Madison website, however, stands out.  It aggressively promotes and facilitates extramarital affairs and has declared that it will specifically target Singaporeans. For example, its founder gave an interview to a local newspaper and according to reports intends to fly into Singapore to launch the Singapore site in the week of 17 November.”

While earlier this year, there was much uproar about the MDA moving to regulate internet content, (which came across as rather ominous sounding particularly in view of Singapore’s history with censorship of the media) this is one move I thoroughly applaud.

I know there are others that find this conservative, arguing for freedom of choice.  Someone likened the business to the tobacco trade, and said that runs, nonetheless.

I’ve recently had to sit through several of my close friends sharing incidents about how their spouses or parents were caught cheating, and those were plain heart-wrenching to listen to. To that, I say - I personally can’t see how someone could make a business to supply that demand, lucrative or not.

The stand of Noel Biderman, the site’s CEO, is that an inanimate object, (that is, the site) is not to blame for a person’s choice for infidelity.

He told the media that the company “does not aggressively promote extra-marital affairs,” and is merely a platform that “cannibalises” an already existing behaviour pattern. While he has a point, as any good service-oriented business understands, convenience is also a huge factor in driving demand.

I received a note last week on the site’s public relations strategy, which is to get publicised in the media as much as possible, banking on its data, sponsorship and getting involved in “scandal-related” discussions. (Obviously, its efforts at advertising have been rebuffed in most places globally.)

Several of PR agency leads have also mentioned to me off-record, that they will be staying out of the pitch. While I'm certain it might have appealed to some agencies, it is clear the site has been invoking the ire of the industry as well. One agency professional expressed it like this: “The agency who takes this up will incur a huge karma deficit.”

On my part, (while it looks like there won’t be much need for this, thanks to the MDA’s ruling) consider this the last time I’m writing about Ashley Madison. Goodbye and good riddance.