On Spoilers and Social Media

Let’s go back. Back before the Internet was a thing. Back when you’d have to wait until at least the next day before you’d get together with some friends or colleagues to discuss last night’s episode of whatever. You really didn’t have to worry too much about spoilers. If you were going to watch a movie, you’d know to avoid reading the newspaper or listening to the radio if they had anything to do with that movie. However, in the modern age of social media, things are different.

If there is a particularly popular TV show, you can’t swing a mouse or a smartphone without hitting something related to that show. But what exactly is proper etiquette when it comes to spoilers in the context of social networking and social media? When is it okay for you to tweet about the surprise ending? How long should you wait before discussing that interesting plot twist?

Live Sports Are Fair Game

For my part, whenever there is a live sports game on, “live” tweeting and Facebook updates are well within the realm of reason. There’s something communally awesome about tweeting along with your fellow fans when Henrik Sedin scores a goal or when Peyton Manning throws yet another touchdown. Sports are something that are best experienced live, even if you are experiencing them vicariously through a scoreboard app and by following the #canucks hashtag on Twitter.

I’ve had friends who complained when I talked about the results of one game or another, saying that they had PVR’d that game for later viewing. I respectfully disagree. If a game is being broadcast live, then sharing my elation or my angst in relation to that game is justified. The same can be said about live award shows, like the Oscars, and other live events.

Declaring the Movie Spoiler

Movies are a different beast than professional sports, because movies are not something that you typically watch “live.” While many people may head out to see a new film on the opening weekend, other people may wait a little longer and they don’t want the story to be spoiled. In this way, the timeline is very different.

Of course, no one is going to fault you when you make reference to Darth Vader being Luke’s father (above), because that’s just assumed to be common knowledge by now. When you run into more recent films, like Star Trek Into Darkness, it may not be quite as appropriate to reveal the identity of Benedict Cumberbatch’s character right away, though it has been several months already too. If you are in any doubt about whether it’s too soon, it’s not a bad idea to preface your remark with a standard “spoiler alert.”

Are TV Shows Any Different?

While there are certainly some commonalities between the handling of movie spoilers and the handling of TV spoilers, I feel there is a distinction to be made here too. Whereas movies will be seen in many theaters at many times over the course of many days, the first broadcast of a new TV show episode will generally take place on the same day for everyone. There may be an Eastern Time airing and a Pacific Time airing, but it’s usually the same day. In this way, some people will say that talking about it the next day would be safe.

And that’s debatable. Lest you wish to incur the wrath of the spoiled masses, it’s probably best to stick with standard “spoiler alert” practices for at least a few days. I know I did when a certain event happened on Boardwalk Empire a couple of seasons ago and I’m sure people feel the same way now about other shows like Mad Men or The Walking Dead. It does become muddled when shows are based on existing content though, as is the case with Game of Thrones. And it becomes even more complicated when a full season is released all at once, like Orange Is the New Black or Mortal Kombat: Legacy, Season II.

Onus Falls on Spoilee, Not Spoiler

At the end of the day, I feel that the Internet is an arena of fair expression, for better or for worse. If you read a movie review and get upset when some detail is revealed to you, you really have no one to blame but yourself. Yes, movie reviewers should generally avoid spilling the beans on any major plot twists (imagine if reviews of The Sixth Sense gave away the ending), but if you don’t want to be spoiled, you really need to avoid putting yourself in situations where you can be spoiled.

If there is a new episode that I’ve been looking forward to watching, I know to avoid certain channels of the Internet… but even then, spoilers are sometimes inescapable. Has this dramatically changed the way we watch TV, movies and other forms of entertainment? What do you consider to be the best practices when it comes to live tweeting, Facebook updates, blog posts and other potential spoiler sources?