Pitchforks at the ready! It’s time to talk about spoilers. For a lot of people, they rank somewhere between Hitler and Ramsey Bolton on the evil-scale. In the days of appointment viewing, they weren’t an issue but now two trends that are at odds with each other have made them a big problem:
- More people are watching programs hours or days after they are first broadcast, whether online or through international syndication.
- A huge online conversation happens on social media as soon as a new episode of a popular show is broadcast.
Spoilers are an incredibly nuanced and difficult topic. They’re also nearly impossible to avoid. Any time you watch an episode of a dramatic TV show, your impulse is to share what you thought of it with your friends. In this article but I’m going to do my best to look at when it’s okay to do that, and when you’re just spoiling a show for everyone else .
Let’s get the easiest one out of the way to start: live events. I’m talking about football games, soccer games, the Olympics, international singing contests, reality TV show finals, and anything else where the action is actually happening somewhere around the world at the same time it’s being broadcast.
The simple rule when it comes to live events is: You can’t spoil live events. I don’t care what anyone else says, posting about a football game that’s happening at that moment doesn’t constitute a spoiler. Hell, Facebook has recently gotten in on the action and has live scores for national games at the top of your News Feed.
If the game happens at some ludicrous hour, like Ireland’s rugby games with New Zealand, it’s up to the viewer to avoid all social media until they’ve watched it if they don’t want to know the score. Alternatively, they can power through and watch the game when it’s broadcast. There’s no expectation on people who watch it live not to talk about it on social media.
Agreed? Right, that’s the easy one dealt with. From here on in we’re going to focus on broadcast television. I’m going to use Game of Thrones as my main example because it’s a show we’re pretty keen on here at MakeUseOf and it’s one of the most spoiled shows online. Feel free to mentally insert whatever your favorite show is. Let’s take things social network by social network.
Twitter is an awkward one to call, and it depends on how you use it. There are groups of people who live tweet episodes of TV, including thousands of people who do it for Game of Thrones. If you’re one of those people, your followers are going to know it. It’s good form to use a hashtag so people can hide it from their feeds if they use a decent app (check out these Twitter apps for iOS and these Twitter apps for Android) but you’re pretty safe to do what you want.
episode 9 reactions pic.twitter.com/WM6qbmYIou
— whit harington (@musicsgf) June 21, 2016
If you don’t normally live tweet TV shows when they’re broadcast, then things get a bit hazier. You may have a load of followers who haven’t yet seen the latest episode but think they’re safe to check out your Twitter account. If there’s big spoilers front and centre, they’re going to be a bit put out.
So let’s call Twitter. It’s where most of the live conversation takes place. You can freely post spoilers on Twitter if you do it regularly or are taking part in the live conversation. Please use a hashtag.
Snapchat, my favorite social network, is easy to call. It’s a totally live feed. If you want to snap your reactions to your friends, go right ahead.
I wouldn’t send videos that spoil the episode to friends who might not have seen it, but that’s your judgement call to make. The ruling: Anyone viewing your snaps should expect to see what you’re up to at that very moment. If it’s watching Game of Thrones, that’s their problem.
Facebook is by far the hardest social network to judge. It’s the melting pot where your mother, ex-girlfriend, boss, and bank manager all weigh in on anything you post. Each one of these people uses Facebook for something different and has different expectations of what they’ll see.
While a live conversation, like what you find on Twitter, does happen on Facebook, it’s not as popular. The News Feed just doesn’t highlight it the same way as Twitter’s does.
Where the real danger with Facebook is, is the next morning. For international viewers, Game of Thrones is available on Monday, a few hours after it’s broadcast in the US. This means all our American friends have already started to post their reactions, share articles and reviews, and generally just spoil things.
While there used to be a lot of social pressure not to post spoilers, for the most recent series it’s been ignored by a lot of people and, especially, news organisations. Vice Media has taken to posting spoilers in their headlines immediately after the show has aired.
How Facebook ties into spoilers is changing. It used to be a no go to post anything at all. Now that’s not the case. Many people feel entirely comfortable blurting out their reactions as soon as an episode has aired regardless as to whether their friends have seen it or not. Some sort of compromise needs to be reached.
Personally, the best rule I’ve found for Facebook is: Keep it vague for two days. After that, anything goes. By following it, you can still engage in the live conversation without ruining it for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. With a show like Game of Thrones, two days is more than long enough as a grace period. If you haven’t watched it by Tuesday, it’s on you to avoid spoilers.
Instagram has roughly the same rules as Facebook, though it is a little more meme-based. For the first day or two, you should keep it vague but after that you’re free to do what you want.
The shift has happened. Enough people no longer care about posting spoilers that visiting any social network, and even some websites, without having seen the latest episode of whatever the show of the moment is runs the risk of spoiling things for you. You can give out and moan all you like, but that’s not going to change.
If you really want to be spoiler free, the thing to do is take control of your web viewing experience. Mihir has written a great article specifically on avoiding Game of Thrones spoilers. He covers how to avoid them on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, as well as around the web.
Even following his advice isn’t 100%. There’s still the danger people will post images with spoilers that won’t be blocked by text filters. If you really want to avoid spoilers, you have to avoid the Internet until you’ve seen the episode.
The Big Secret About Spoilers
There is one big secret when it comes to spoilers that I’ve saved until last. They don’t really matter. When you already know what’s going to happen, you’re free to appreciate TV shows on a slightly different level.
I talked about Film Crit Hulk’s Four Levels of Consuming Art in my article on Why the Internet Doesn’t Get Art. Spoilers only affect the lowest level of media appreciation. No one loves Star Wars because of the twist that Darth Vader is Luke’s father; they love it because of the characters, the drama, the setting, the plot, and everything else. Knowing how the movie ends just lets you enjoy the journey more; you’re not constantly trying to guess what happens next.
Do you post spoilers on social media? When do you feel it’s okay? My rules are just guidelines so recommend your own in the comments.