Last Sunday, the HBO television drama Game of Thrones aired an episode culminating in a series game-changer that had long-time A Song of Ice and Fire readers saying, "Finally! We can talk about this massive event!"
Except not everyone watched the show when it aired on Sunday. And in the fine tradition of people with DVRs and asynchronous schedules everywhere, they took to social media on Sunday night to beseech their friends, acquaintances, and/or random people on their Twitter follow list to please, please, please not talk about the show. And in another fine Internet tradition, people immediately took exception to being told what to do online and began arguing about it.
Riveting television shows, divergent TV viewing schedules, and Internet "discussions" dominated by people who can't go to bed because someone is wrong are not going to go away. But you don't have to be sucked into the madness, or suffer spoilers on your favorite TV shows. Read on for our suggestions on how to avoid the spoiler-y aspects of social media.
If you don't want to be spoiled...
The first thing you have to do: Understand that your definition of a spoiler is not going to be the world's definition. As Joe Reid, an entertainment writer for New York magazine and the AV Club told us, "From an end-user perspective, a spoiler is not a spoiler once you've seen the thing for yourself. The real question you're getting at is: When is a spoiler no longer something you're allowed to complain about?"
By Reid's own criteria, spoilers last one week for movies, and considerably less for TV. As he points out, different TV shows seem to have different "rules," depending on whether the show is predominantly a "night-of" viewing (like American Idol) or something that's picked up steam thanks to time-shifting and Hulu or DVRs (like Pretty Little Liars).
Tara Ariano, who runs Previously.TV and has wrangled spoiler etiquette as one of the founders of Television Without Pity, has a much speedier definition: "Once a thing has aired, it's not a spoiler anymore."
That means that people on the West Coast should probably be extremely wary of what's crossing their Facebook and Twitter streams in prime time on the East Coast. Ultimately, the best way to avoid spoilers on social media is to forsake the social dimension of watching TV, and go offline until you've had a chance to catch up. (I know, it sucks.)
However, sometimes your job requires you to check in regularly on social media. Even then, the onus is still on you to filter out or screen content that you don't want to see. You can do this by unfollowing people on Facebook or Twitter, hiding people on Facebook, sorting your Twitter feed into lists of people talking about pop culture versus those who don't, or hiding tweets based on hashtags. Third-party Twitter applications will usually let you create filters that block out specific hashtags, or you can find a browser plug-in like Declutter or Proxlet (for Chrome).
And the last step is acceptance. Filtering by hashtag or blocking streams only works if other people are playing by the rules--and, as we all know, enforcing any rules online is a sucker's bet. Accept that you will get hit by stray spoilers in any social media space.
"Being on Twitter while major TV dramas are happening carries with it an inherent risk," Reid says. "If it truly matters that much to you to know absolutely nothing about these shows, you should go radio silent for a few hours."
Bring on the second screen
One of the easiest best practices you can pick up: Use hashtags when you're tweeting about television shows or movies. That way, people who want to have a conversation during the event can easily find your quips.
"I am really conscientious about using hashtags when I tweet about TV, and I wish it were possible to enforce 100 percent compliance with my personal standard across the board," Ariano says.
Another thing to consider if you're engaging in the multiple-screens experience of TV-watching while talking about it on Twitter: Don't be so spoiler-avoidant that you're saying nothing at all.
"For social media--especially with Twitter--it's often about the shared viewing experience," Zap2It editorial director Brill Bundy says. "Keeping it vague defeats the purpose."