Spoiler alert! Negotiating social media in the DVR age

Posted at 6:42 AM, Feb 25, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-25 09:11:30-05

(CNN) — Nobody found out who shot J.R. on Facebook. And none of us first saw Bob Newhart wake up with Suzanne Pleshette in an Instagram photo.

But that was then and this, in all its Tivo, Twitter and Hulu-centric glory, is now.

In 2014, technology has handed us unprecedented flexibility in how we keep up with our favorite shows. But it’s also making it harder than ever to avoid walking headlong into spoilers.

Social media lets us share our thoughts with our friends, family and other digitally gathered acquaintances in real time. Which means that with one click we can spoil some of television’s biggest moments for other people who may be enjoying the same shows at a more leisurely pace.

You know, like that thing that happened on “Game of Thrones.” Or the one on “House of Cards.” No, not the first one. The other one. Or, the other thing that happened on “Game of Thrones.” You know, at the wedding? Yeah. That one.

One of the reasons it’s so tempting to blurt out details about our favorite shows these days — or to stumble into someone else doing so — is that there’s so much good TV to choose from. With cable channels pushing boundaries, the networks fighting to keep up, classy British imports like “Downton Abbey” and “Sherlock,” and Web-based offerings from Hulu or Netflix, this is television’s new golden age.

And who’s got time to watch it all when it originally airs — especially when there are DVRs, on-demand menus and streaming services like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime just waiting to be used?

Despite this wealth of tech-driven options for watching and sharing TV, we still can’t seem to agree on the proper etiquette for how to chat online about it without ruining it for somebody else.

Some of us count ourselves among the No Spoiler Extremists. Enjoyed the show? Well, shut up about it, unless you know you’re talking with (or typing to) someone else who’s already seen it.

(Full disclosure: This is coming from the guy who, as an excitable lad, responded to a question about “Return of the Jedi” with, “It was great! But Yoda dies.”)

At the other end of the spectrum is the Not My Problem Brigade. Don’t want to be spoiled? Then watch the show when it airs or stay off social media until you do. Daryl’s hair on “The Walking Dead” is particularly luscious tonight and I must tell the world!

Then there are all the other folks who fall somewhere in the middle. So, let’s try to find a happy medium, shall we?

Here are some tips for both the potential spoiler and the potential spoilee to help keep all of us TV watchers spoiler-free.


If you’re a spoiler: Go there.

Unlike other social platforms, we’ve all pretty much agreed that Twitter is where you go to talk about TV shows while they’re happening.

Just log on during the Super Bowl, the Oscars, a presidential debate or any other big TV event and you’ll see why CEO Dick Costolo said the site is saving live television.

Sure, we’ve got all that tech that lets us watch later. But part of the fun for the Web’s most dedicated couch potatoes has become watching Twitter’s real-time chatter about their favorite shows.

If you’re a spoilee: Don’t go there.

You’ve been warned. Seriously. The place is a 140-character wild, wild West. If you follow anyone who likes the same shows you do (and why would you not?), don’t log on until you’re caught up.

‘Spoiler alert’

If you’re a spoiler: Use these.

What a difference two little words can make. We know that most of you aren’t the jackasses who ran around bookstore parking lots yelling “Snape kills Dumbledore!” You don’t want to ruin the surprise for folks who haven’t seen it. You just want to talk to folks who have.

On Facebook, throwing something like “SPOILER ALERT” or “GAME OF THRONES SPOILER” at the beginning of your post gives your friends at least a fighting chance to avert their eyes.

If you’re a spoilee: Scan carefully

We’ve all been blindsided by spoilers, and sometimes there’s not much you can do about it. Witness all the “Downton” fans who were hopping mad after accidentally learning of the sudden death of a beloved character (two characters, actually) in season 3.

But if you know you’re currently missing a show that you plan to catch up on, especially if it’s a season finale or other “very special” episode, surf with one eye open. Noticing a key word or two in a friend’s post that warns of unfamiliar terrain can give you time to turn around and read elsewhere.

Details, details

If you’re a spoiler: Save details for the comments section.

We’re mainly talking about Facebook here. Nobody blames you for wanting to talk about the “OMG THAT JUST HAPPENED!” moment. So how about something like this?:

“SCANDAL — OMG that just happened !!! (Spoilers in comments).”

That way, your friends who are OMGing along with you can head to the comments and chatter away. (And, yes, we’re declaring “OMG” a verb for now).

If you’re a spoilee: Uh, don’t read the comments.

Seriously. If you can’t take that hint, you’ve kind of lost our sympathy here.

Take it elsewhere

If you’re a spoiler: Create your own space to share

My pals Chris and Kathleen are funny. And they’re fans of “The Walking Dead.”

In what started mostly as an effort to crack each other up from across the room, they began posting snarky commentary, random observations and funny pictures to Facebook as they watched. Until, that is, they received the obligatory threats of physical harm from friends who hadn’t yet watched the latest episode.

And, thus, was Chris & Kathleen’s Walking Dead Commentary Page born.

You don’t need a massive following to create your own page, or to start your own live blog dedicated to your favorite show.

Just go ahead and build that digital treehouse, then invite a few friends you know want to play and let it rip. Your slowpoke friends will thank you. As will, you know, what’s her name. The blonde one.

If you’re a spoilee: Stay away

If you’ve signed up for a blog like this, and have to miss an episode, don’t forget to stay off it until the coast is clear.

Do you have tips for how to avoid spoilers, or how to chat about your favorite shows without ruining them for others? Let us know in the comments.

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