How one guy pranked 230k Facebook users

What do creative people do when they're bored?

If you're David Thorne, creator of the hilarious website 27b/6, and you've got a long weekend in front of you, you might try to see how many people you can get to RSVP to an imaginary woman's birthday party. [via zug]

After selecting a photo of an "attractive, approachable" young woman, Thorne set up a prank Facebook page inviting her friends to "Kate's Party," pretended to accidentally leave it open to public viewing instead of setting it to private, then twittered his 27,000 followers (below).

Thorne's followers (slashers?) swung into high gear and began RSVPing for the event, which prompted a "response" from "Kate" -- who was allegedly horrified that her apartment was to be set upon by thousands of Aussie boozehounds.

"WTF?????????? WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE? WHY ARE THERE 10000 PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN INVITED??????? THIS IS A PRIVATE PARTY AT OUR APARTMENT," she/he/someone wrote. When it got to 60,000 attendees, the event was canceled, with 170,000 more awaiting confirmation.

But it didn't end there. The Internet firestorm created by the "party" spawned over 500 spinoff groups, including one dedicated to androgynous tween sex symbol and pedophile wet dream Justin Bieber. This in turn sparked a terrific opportunity for T-shirt marketers, who came out with the classically understated "I Took A Dump at Kate's Party." View full coverage of the prank here.

A notorious prankster and author of the bestselling The Internet is a Playground, David Thorne is many things to many people: author, humorist, Dad, and (hopefully one day) monkey owner. ZUG caught up with him during a recent trip to the U.S., in between visits to Applebee's, which he claims is his new favorite restaurant.

ZUG: As "viral experiments" go, Kate's Party was wildly successful. What was the skill/luck ratio, and what were the ingredients of the skill portion?

THORNE: There is always a degree of luck and timing with anything going viral, but if you make the exercise fun and engaging then the chances are good. I guess the "skill" aspect came down to selecting an image of "Kate" that was approachable, and creating a situation were people could be part of the "prank" with a simple click. When the guest list reached the forty thousand mark, having "Kate" indicate that she was outraged by the number of guests fueled the fire. Everybody likes to troll to some degree, even if they won't admit it.

ZUG: Although we suspect this was never the point, what was the timeline from idea to T-shirt sales? And has that been a commercial success for you?

THORNE: T-shirt sales have always been a fairly important part of the website, as they help pay hosting fees. The T-shirt in regards to Kate's party was actually constructed before the Facebook invite was. It sold around eight hundred units in the biggest week of media interest, and I receive a few dollars from each sale. Hardly a commercial success, but every cent helps -- and traffic to 27bslash6 is ultimately far more important to me.

ZUG: We saw an interview with the real "Kate" (Dawn). Was she really a random pick? How does she feel about all of this?

THORNE: I have had no contact with Dawn. The image was fairly random -- I typed "attractive, friendly, approachable girl" into Google Images and her photo was a few pages in. She seems vaguely bemused by the whole thing. I am fairly used to people being "vaguely bemused." I never write anything with cruel intentions. Apart from her image being used -- apparently it was a Facebook photo from several years ago -- there was no harm done.

David Thorne is vaguely bemused

ZUG: The prank seems to make fun of Facebook's privacy issues. Was that your intention?

THORNE: Not really. There were already plenty of med
ia stories around Facebook privacy issues, and I simply picked up on this. Actually the exercise was partly to demonstrate the viral power of engaging people in a fun exercise using just Twitter and Facebook, and partly because I was bored on a long weekend.

ZUG: What have been the positives and negatives to come out of this experiment for you?

THORNE: The best part is that a lot of people had fun and got involved with the exercise -- the spinoff groups,
YouTube videos and participation numbers attest to this -- but obviously driving traffic to the website is always a positive aspect. Most of the media coverage mentioned my book The Internet is a Playground, so hopefully this helped sales. My publisher does not answer his phone or reply to my emails, but I am sure he will let me know eventually. Possibly the only negative aspect to the Kate's party media coverage is being made a liar in public, but looking stupid has never bothered me too much.

ZUG: How much have your site traffic an
d Twitter followers increased since the stunt?

THORNE: The traffic to the website has always been fairly consistent. While it generally sits at between 20,000-40,000 unique visitors per day, when I post new articles it rises to between 90,000-140,000 per day. The Kate's Party stories obviously generated a good deal of traffic for a few weeks. Generally, about 70% of my visitors come from the U.S., with the rest of the world making up the rest. New Zealand for some reason contributed 35,000 unique visitors per day during Kate's Party. It was probably a slow news week in New Zealand. I received twenty-four interview requests for TV and
radio shows during that time, and seventeen were from New Zealand. This is probably because New Zealand local news consists of two minutes of the host reassuring the nation that nothing has happened, then twenty-eight minutes of video footage showing sheep grazing. There are no commercial breaks, as New Zealand employs a barter system using shells as its local currency.

ZUG: What are your three favorite bits on your website?

THORNE: My favourite bits are the top and middle, but the bottom bits are ok. The articles that are my favourites are the ones that I had the most fun writing. These are not always the most popular with the public. Readers prefer the email articles and I laughed quite a bit while writing the Dear neighbour, I am having a party and you are not invited piece. But I enjoy the straight articles as well -- the Flight Commander article (because I am a geek), Barnesyfan67 (because Joanne went ballistic when she found it), I wish I had a monkey article (because it is stupid) and Too cool for school (because it is about my offspring) are among my favourites.

ZUG: Bonus question: Would you let this man babysit?

THORNE: Yes, as I do actually trust my offspring's ability to separate fact from fantasy.

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