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Cyber-Affairs in the Workplace

Social Media’s Role in Cyber Affairs

Have you ever been bored in the workplace? Have you thought about having a cyber-affair? Well, you’re not alone. Cyber-affairs that begin during workplace hours and continue at home are on the rise. Increasingly, employees are seeking out their “soul mates” online.

The Internet has been one of the greatest inventions in recent years. Nothing compares to its efficiency as a communications tool or to its immensity as an information resource. But can this incredible advancement in technology actually play a role in destroying lives, breaking up marriages and devastating families?

You bet it can.

With Internet access in the home and workplace, more and more people are connecting with one another. The Internet — with its plethora of dating sites, personals, chat rooms, message boards and e-mail — has become the new singles lounge. Unfortunately, not everyone “hooking up” online is single offline. Determining where to draw the line while online is ambiguous to many individuals, causing cyber affairs to be on the rise.

“It is a function of technology and society. People have access to a means of communicating with one another,” said Brian Canfield, president of the International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors. “In the distant past, it had to be face-to-face. Later on, it moved to written correspondence and telephone. This is just a natural extension of technology that allows people to communicate on a level that can develop intimacy.”

Cyber affairs occur when online or Internet communication allows people to develop a level of intimacy and violate their promise of fidelity to their “real” partner or spouse. Online affairs are emotional and psychological relationships that go beyond flirtatious chatting. They may start out innocently, but can lead to actual physical encounters with the online acquaintance. This oftentimes blurs the definition of cheating, because the person involved in the cyber affair did not actually have a sexual encounter with his or her cyber partner.

“Obviously, people are going to say that ‘I never touched her, so it’s not cheating,’ but there are emotional cheating and emotional affairs. That’s when a person has fantasies or interactions with someone, and it interferes with a real-life commitment,” said Marlene Mahue, managing editor of Selfhelp Magazine, an online mental health resource.

In cyberspace, people are allowed to keep their anonymity. They can be whomever they want, claim to look however they want and type things they would never dare say in a face-to-face conversation. People become perfect as they hide their flaws behind screen names. They can lie about their motives and exaggerate their appearance.

Online people can take their time crafting the perfect response, question, suggestion or innuendo. They can re-write it repeatedly, checking their spelling and grammar, trying to come up with a flawless message. They aren’t pressured or put on the spot as in a real-life encounter. The power of the written world can be intoxicating. Online people can create their own personae perhaps like the persons they wish they could be — romantic, confident, self-assured, and sensuous or even domineering. Real people don’t stand a chance compared with these cyber characters. 

Many times in cyber affairs, the person feels uninhibited when expressing him or herself. They will indulge in conversations that they would never speak of to their spouse or real partner. They divulge their most private fantasies because they are protected by a computer screen; they essentially have nothing to hide because they have nothing to fear.

Online affairs develop because of the dual attraction of attention and anonymity. If someone is feeling ignored by his or her spouse, he or she can easily find attention in any number of places on the ’Net. Men lurk in chat rooms, waiting to pounce on the next unappreciated and sexually frustrated wife to log on. The fantasy sex is the best that one can imagine, because it is imagined. Women are erotic, kinky and bold, while the men are sensitive, compassionate and loving. Although an affair may seem perfect online, it cannot replace that of a real intimate relationship that provides friendship, support and respect.

Online relationships frequently cross fidelity boundaries and cause pain, heartbreak and even divorce. Even though online affairs don’t involve sex or oftentimes not even a possibility of the partners meeting in-person, they can be very intense and threatening to a marriage or partnership. “When people discover their partner is having an online affair, there is a very big emotional explosion, on par with a real-life affair,” Mahue said. “Lying about distance and using the partner for a vehicle of fantasy can cause incredible emotional damage.”

Those who have been cheated on feel outraged, hurt, ignored, insignificant, doubtful and betrayed. Many times, the partner was blamed for sexual problems in the relationship, and excuses were made to avoid intimacy. The adults are not the only ones who suffer; children in the family often feel ignored, unloved or confused.

There are affairs of the heart and affairs of the mind. Each has its ethical consequences and harms the offended partner. When affairs begin on the Internet while in the workplace, it adds an element of inappropriateness that can lead to serious consequences such as sexual favors down the road and even sexual harassment.

Remember, you are what you do and when involved in a workplace or any other affair, you violate the basic tenets of ethical behavior including respect, responsibility, and accountability for your actions. Moreover, you could destroy a reputation for trust. If there is one thing I’ve learned from observing the behavior of people like Lance Armstrong and John Edwards, it is that it takes a long time to build a reputation for trust, but not very long to tear it down.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz aka Ethics Sage on April 10, 2013