This question is perhaps a particular case of this one. I still feel it deserves to live standalone.
I am sure that a published paper with 4 authors--A, B, C, and X--was almost entirely produced by X. X designed the study, gathered the data, analyzed the data, and wrote the paper. A helped X a little bit (sort of supervised X). B and C are listed there because of typical dishonest authorship mafia. At that time, X was a student. X could do very little to oppose adding those authors in her/his very first paper.
Now, I am writing a paper that references this one. While A et al. paper is correctly displayed in the References, I was thinking to purposely cite the paper as X et al. (year) in the text.
That would be a subtle way to entail that I know what was going on there. I would cite the paper in the way that was supposed to be. Maybe B and C will also get it. That's a sort of nerdish academic subversive behavior, I guess.
Would that be meaningless? In particular, would that damage X citation counts? I do not think so, because the paper is correctly listed in the References. However, I am not sure because of this question.