A recent survey found that Facebook is mentioned in one out of five new divorce filings, and some experts are labeling it as the top website for facilitating affairs. As the president of AshleyMadison.com - the world's largest service expressly dedicated to infidelity - I could not help but take notice.
If Facebook affairs are being cited in divorce proceedings, then the people involved in them are getting caught - which means the network probably isn't the best place to stray.
Facebook's constantly evolving privacy policies make it challenging to stay on top of who sees what, and most users have no shortage of "friends" who could report their suspected dalliances to wronged spouses. And even with all the so-called security measures Facebook has implemented, it's obvious from the statistics that more and more spouses are being caught cheating via the network.
To make matters worse, there's a good chance that the married people initiating affairs on Facebook are cheating with past lovers or mutual friends - both of which can be much more devastating to one's spouse than cheating with a stranger, as such affairs cross the line between casual sex and emotional involvement.
On the other hand, could the popularity of Facebook - which is expected to reach 500 million users this week - be explained partly by its status as a burgeoning playground for adulterers? After all, it offers countless opportunities for an innocent "add" to one's network - say, of an old flame or a spouse's friend - to evolve into a full-fledged affair.
Infidelity on social-networking platforms is nothing new. AshleyMadison.com grew out of the discovery that 30 percent of married men and women were using social networks and singles' dating services to have affairs. Thousands of married people were signing up with such services and pretending to be single in order to find something "on the side."
However, there are huge risks inherent in the strategy. Unsuspecting singles may seek revenge after discovering a new lover is married. And, because the sites are not designed for discreet dating, it's much harder to hide the evidence. Moreover, actual singles trying to navigate the already complex world of dating are unjustly forced to sort through potential mates who may already be paired up.
Facebook knows this problem exists but refuses to publicly acknowledge it. In this way, infidelity is to Facebook as pornography is to cable television: The network knows it drives much of its revenue, but prefers that no one discuss it. It's willful ignorance at best, and consumer manipulation at worst.
We approached Facebook last year and offered to help the network deflect these would-be adulterers to our anonymous service. This would have been a mutually beneficial agreement, sparing countless marriages and saving numerous "singles" unwarranted grief. But Facebook rejected our proposed ads, deeming them (and our site) "adult." (No kidding: It's a dating service for married people, so we clearly aren't interested in promoting it to teenagers!)
It's not necessarily the act of cheating that ends marriages; it's getting caught. Entering into an extramarital relationship on a nonsecure social-networking platform makes such an outcome all the more likely.