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Divorce over social media sites? A technical solution doesn't seem to be in the making here, as tracing emails isn't all that easy...

My husband is listed on many social sites such as Orkut, Facebook, and so forth. Because of this and other multiple sites, I'm thinking about a divorce. He claims that he never opened these sites and that someone else is doing it. My question is – can the emails being sent be traced and the computers be traced that sent the emails?

In this excerpt from Answercast #31, I look at a contentious social media situation and the very difficult steps that it would take to resolve it technically.

Social website disharmony...


So, I'm not going to get into the relative merits of Facebook, or whether simply having an account on those services is something to be worried about. Obviously, millions of people do without problem and without issue. I'm assuming that there's more going on with the activity in those accounts than simply having those accounts.

Setting up social network sites

Now, it is absolutely possible that people can set up accounts on social media sites using other people's names. It happens all the time. It really does.

  • Typically, though, those accounts will be associated with an email address that is not yours.

For example, if someone were to go out and create an account for me, for Leo Notenboom, and then make it look like it's me – the email address they would be using would be theirs and not mine. If it were mine, I could go in and I could control the account and I could shut it down and do whatever to it.

So – given that it's their email address; they control the account... and it is not mine.

  • It is literally not my account: even though it looks like it may be trying to represent itself as being me.

Tracing emails

Now, when it comes down to the emails, it really depends on what emails you're talking about. If you mean emails that are being sent from these services, you're only going to be able to trace it back as far as the service.

If these emails are coming from somewhere else, then yes, sometimes it's possible to trace where they came from – to the level of, perhaps, an IP address.

  • Once you get to the IP address, then you end up needing things like court orders to identify the specific location of the computer that was connected to that IP address, at that time.

In other words, in order for email tracing to work, you really have to get law enforcement involved. I suspect that they're going to need a lot more data, a lot more incriminating data, before they would take something like this on.

Is it that bad?

So, I'm very reluctant to condone simply having an account on Orkut or Facebook as something that is for some reason "bad."

At a minimum, I can at least answer your question and say: Tracing the email in general is going to be impossible at best.

At worst, if something rose to the level of warranting law enforcement or the court's attention:

  1. and... a court order could be issued,

  2. then maybe... it can be traced (if it's the right kind of email from the right kind of place)

  3. or... you can contact Facebook (or the social media providers) themselves directly (with this court order in hand).

Then and only then would you be able to actually get the information that it appears that you're looking for.

Article C5539 - July 2, 2012 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

July 3, 2012 12:04 PM

It is also possible that the husband is telling the truth. Perhaps at one point in time he set up accounts but has stopped using them without deactivating or deleting his accounts (perhaps because his wife asked him to stop, and he has indeed stopped). An email indicating some activity does not necessarily mean the husband was active.

For example, before my daughter was born I don't think I was on Facebook for more than a month, yet Facebook kept sending me emails about comments on my profile, or pictures I was tagged in, etc. This was all stuff that my Facebook friends were doing and included me. It seems the longer I ignore Facebook, the more frequent they send me emails.

You should give your husband the benefit of the doubt unless you can prove he is lying (maybe check his Facebook profile and see when was the last time he did something on Facebook).

July 3, 2012 1:48 PM

This may be a helpful site for tracing the point of origin for emails-

July 8, 2012 5:40 AM

Forgive my ignorance but what is Orchid?

A transcription error. Should be Orkut.

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