updated 2/18/2010 5:34:31 PM ET 2010-02-18T22:34:31

I logged onto Facebook one day and saw that my mild-mannered Swedish cousin “Susan," an accomplished architect who has worked on projects all over the world, had a status update that I can’t repeat here — an R-rated proposition to any interested man who happened to be reading her page. Coming from her, this type of message was a real jolt.

Later I found out that she’d been at an Internet café and had neglected to sign out of the computer she was using. Whoever happened to use that machine after her clearly couldn’t resist the temptation to fill in her status with something obscene.

Along the same lines, another friend’s status regularly reads, “Jenny has pooped her pants,” whenever she fails to log off of the computer she shares with her loving but not-very-tasteful husband.

These are examples of the most basic Facebook prank known to members: The ol’ fill-in-somebody-else’s-status-when-they-forgot-to-sign-out trick. It happens often, and who wouldn’t understand the temptation of putting some choice words in somebody else’s mouth or splattering a healthy dose of irreverent graffiti onto an otherwise unblemished wall?

That’s only one of the many antics tucked up our social networking sleeves, though. What follows are some others.

(And if you're more interested in avoiding such tricks being played on you than in playing them, our story on avoiding Facebook disasters may provide some help.)

The hijack
Your friend thinks it’s all about him, doesn’t he? Well, it’s time to take over his wall and show him otherwise. He’ll soon be merely the pawn in a more dynamic interplay between you and another of his friends, whom you don’t know, after you strike up a heated debate in the comments section of his status update with a nonmutual acquaintance.

First he writes something innocent, like, “Tom loves Boston.” Then his friend Joey, one of those people who use Facebook to air their every political opinion, writes, “Even after they elected that idiot Senator?” And then you pipe in, “Hey, Joey, whoever you are. Scott Brown is a far better candidate than that lazy insider they had running opposite him. At long last, blindly liberal Massachusetts has a brain.” You write that not because you really care, of course, but because you want to stir the pot.

Before you know it, Joey’s writing back to you, and Tom is out of the picture — the inadvertent participant in his own wall’s decline into pointless political blather. (Meanwhile, he gets pinged incessantly to let him know that another and another comment is pouring onto his page, and all because he said he loves Boston!)

Facebook survival guide for awkward adults

Of course it doesn't have to be a political mess that you leave on somebody's wall. Why not ask their friend out on a date? "Ooh la la, Samantha. So you're Phillip's friend, huh? Unless he has dibs on you, may I be so bold as to ask you out sometime? I like the looks of your profile pic, and any friend of Phil's is a friend of mine."

RSVP shenanigans
Join the club ... as a joke. This random guy’s birthday party had nearly 2000 “confirmed guests,” most of them signing up just as a joke. The event was supposed to be some dude’s low-key birthday party, thrown by a friend. But a viral prank took off, with complete strangers pledging to come from as far away as Helsinki to celebrate with this Tom fellow, whom most of them didn’t even know.

The faux partygoers bombarded the event’s wall with messages as if they were in the inner circle. They exchanged over-the-top excited comments leading up to the event and then followed up after the party, making it sound as if it had been a completely wild time. “Pets are welcome, right?” wrote Facebook member Adrian House, from Australia, before the party. “I just wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving my monkey alone at home all night.” Another, from the U.K., wrote, “Looking forward to it — as is Grandma.”

After the event, the pretend guests (who obviously didn’t fly halfway across the country to attend) recounted made-up details that made the party sound like it had been downright crazy. “Did anyone lose a glass eye?” asked one prankster. “Anyone here missing a goat? There is one in my living room and i don't know what to do with it,” wrote another.

A lot of birthday parties and similarly mundane events are open, so why not go on an RSVPing spree to freak out the hosts or just stir up a little confusion?

The Merry Tagger
Whether it’s old, embarrassing yearbook photos you dug up and tagged or something completely unrelated to the person you tag — a hairy gorilla at the zoo, perhaps, tagged as your hirsute friend Ron? — there seems to be no end to tagging fun on Facebook. Facebook doesn’t really do anything to prevent it.

There are countless stories of people shooting a friend’s drunken trip to the bathroom at some club, then posting on Facebook and tagging the friend. Not a happy thing to wake up to on the Internet when you’re hung over.

Does your buddy drool when he sleeps? Shoot a pic and post it with a tag hours before he rolls himself out of bed at 2 p.m. He'll undoubtedly detag himself, but not before most of his friends have seen it.

If you’re not mean-spirited enough to tease-tag, why not make a nice Valentine’s Day gesture by finding an image of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and tagging your beloved wife as the paean to beauty in that famous painting? Who said pranks can’t be romantic? Find an Abercrombie and Fitch model and tag your younger brother, struggling a little with self-esteem, to show him that at least his sister thinks he's a stud. Reward your husband for fulfilling his New Year's resolution to hit the gym regularly by tagging him in a photo of Chuck Norris.

Everybody knows you shouldn't post drunk or scandalous photos on Facebook in case future employers take a gander. So make sure the target of your prank knows that the prank has been perpetrated. If they don't take down the gag pic or tag, it's your responsibility to do so, or at least to offer to.

Punk your mom
Lots of people are dealing with “the Mom problem” on Facebook. Is the idea of being Facebook friends with your mom any better than the idea of being Facebook friends with your boss? Some moms comment on their kids' pages so much that even the kids’ friends start to feel like Facebook has become some kind of chaperoned party.

So if your mom insists on being a part of your Facebook world, there’s nothing wrong with throwing her a little “brush-back” pitch, just to remind her where she is.

If you're single, it’s only a few clicks to change your relationship status to “married,” and then maybe post some pics of your high school P.E. teacher as your new spouse.

If you know your mother is watching, then a slightly scandalous photo or a bit of colorful language might be just the thing you need in extending a not-so-warm welcome on her first day as a social networker.

Just imagine: Mom is eager (all of a sudden, after years of deriding "kids these days" for spending all their time online) to be your friend on Facebook, but once she sees that profile photo of you baring some cleavage on a mechanical bull, or reads a status update that doesn't reflect the wholesome upbringing she thought she gave you, she might think twice about this Facebook thing.

Fan pages ‘R’ us
It’s difficult — and probably against the rules — to pose as somebody you’re not on Facebook (too bad, because that would be fun). But you can start a fan page for a friend, or a group of friends, and then you're suddenly in charge of what's said about that person. And more important, it looks like the person featured in the fan page is the one who posts the status updates, not the administrator.

You can make a fan page for your friend Olivia, perhaps leading up to her birthday or wedding, inviting her other "fans" to comment about why she's so great.

If you want to be thoroughly confusing, you can start a fan page for somebody you want to punk and start putting words in his or her mouth. Is your friend Gregory a tough guy? Have him talk excitedly about his My Little Pony collection or mention that he's due for his biweekly pedicure.

Because personal profile pages and fan pages look so much alike on Facebook, many people will just assume it's Greg getting in touch with his more feminine side.

Fun with Friend Suggest
You know your friend Liz always had a crush on Peter in accounting. Suggest that they become friends. Liz, you've been punk'd.

Suggest that your ex, who cheated on you and deserves a mean prank, become friends with somebody you know he doesn't particularly like. Or maybe suggest he become friends with the person he cheated on you with (if he isn’t already).

How about your friend who drinks too much? Suggest she become a fan of "drinking so much I puke at work" or one of the many inappropriate and humorously specific fan pages that people are starting these days. (Alcoholics Anonymous also has a group.)

If somebody has a body odor problem, suggest he become a fan of "deodorant."

See? Sometimes when you punk somebody, you’re actually doing them (and their friends) a favor.

Keep it all in fun
You’ve been racking up an impressive friends total since you’ve been on Facebook. So you’ve got plenty of targets for pranks, and plenty more people to get a laugh out of it.

Besides, as the initial excitement of Facebook wears off for many of us, we need something to do. Facebook is at its best when its members get creative, such as when everybody turned into a writer during the “25 Things About You” phenomenon awhile back.

Lastly, let's all remember than pranks are only fun when the target of the prank thinks it’s fun, too. So don't get carried away, kids.


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