Column: A Novel Netiquette Solution to Spoilers

Dec 7, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Am I allowed to mention that Izzie is having sex with Denny on “Grey’s Anatomy?”
It’s not the sex part I’m worried about. What I’m wondering is—is it OK to “spoil” that she did it with a dead guy more than two weeks ago?
I’m guessing that “more than two weeks” probably falls outside the spoilers statute of limitations, even in our digital video recorder and time-shifted world.
But what is the acceptable grace period? How long must we sit mute before we blog, Twitter or post Facebook updates on the cliffhanger or resolution in a new episode of a television series? In this hyper-connected social media world where our friends and our followers see our status updates about watching Meredith die—oops, she’s alive again—what is the netiquette for revealing the ending?
(Disclaimer: The Meredith dying episode ran two years ago on “Grey’s Anatomy.”)
I ask because some social media participants have been chided for even inquiring about a show. When advertising executive Scott Lackey posted a Twitter message on Nov. 23 asking only if anyone else had seen the movie version of “24” that ran that night, he was immediately rebuked by Twitter followers, who told him, “Don’t say anything, I am TiVo-ing it.”
As the co-founder and strategic director of Jugular Advertising in New York, Mr. Lackey wants television viewers to talk freely about shows they are watching. “Water-cooler talk is great and this is a living water cooler,” he said.
But at the same time, we should be sensitive to the wide range of viewing habits, shouldn’t we?
I surveyed my Twitter friends last week about when to share spoilers, and the responses ranged from after the West Coast feed ends to 48 hours, one week and maybe not at all. (You can tick off friends in foreign countries who often can’t see United States shows for six months or longer after they air here by talking about plot points.)
Even if you put “spoiler alert” on a Twitter message or a Facebook post, our gaze will see the whole post anyway, meaning we can’t hide from a message, said Barak Kassar, founding director for marketing communications agency Rassak.


So does common courtesy dictate that pop culture is verboten on social forums? That has its own risks, Mr. Lackey said. “It really hurts the medium if there become unspoken rules of ‘You can’t comment’ because it takes entertainment off the table, it takes premieres off the table, it takes television off the table, it takes sports off the table,” Mr. Lackey said.
On the other hand, maybe we need to accept the consequences of hearing about an ending before we see a show if we choose to engage in social media. If you don’t want to know if Vince gets the role on “Entourage,” or if Pam comes back to Scranton on “The Office” or if Izzie really does have a brain tumor (that is purely speculation at this point and NOT a spoiler) then maybe you should stay off Twitter, Facebook and other blogs.
But there’s another option. Maybe even a better one.
You can find a real person to talk to, said David Wheeler, a psychology professor at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh. “Being able to talk to a buddy about TV shows will let you not share spoilers on Twitter.”
A buddy.
I like that idea.

24 Comments

  1. There’s no way to stop the discussion in forums and 2.0 segments. A way to mitigate this has to come from the content producers or labels. May be there will be added value for a consumer to experience a premier feed right at that time only .. to prevent oneself from knowing what happened from their social networking community!
    Brands should monetize this possibility too. Users might just watch it when it is being aired. Spots get more costly now since suddenly TiVO is dead in the water? wow.. new widgets do dissolve existing business delivery and tracking models…. they tried to kill ads thru DVRs .. and now users catalyzed the need to watch them as they are aired… suddenly DVRs biz model got to shift.
    I love it :)
    Pinaki aka Evolvingwheel

  2. I voted for 48 hours. However…
    If you elect to watch something after its original air date, it’s your responsibility to be vigilant when entering spoiler minefields like Twitter.
    Remember the Seinfeld episode where Jerry answers the phone, “If you know what happened in the Mets game don’t tell me, I taped it. Hello?”
    There’s a man who knows how to time-shift.

  3. Anyone can feel free to tell me what’s happened (or happening) on “Lost” so I don’t have to watch the darn thing.

  4. The rule in our book club applies toe the WWW: if you come to book club, expect that we’re discussing the book. So if you don’t want it spoiled, don’t come for the discussion.
    If you don’t want to know who won the Mets game, don’t watch the sports news. If you don’t want to know what happened on Grey’s don’t go online. Simple.

  5. Daisy you raise a very valid point for us TV PR professionals. The days of worrying about sending out screeners and asking the media to embargo the information have been replaced with immediate spoilage with Facebook and twitter.
    It’s so funny I was at a party last week in which everyone there was on Facebook.So I’m finding myself saying “Off the record” now when I make personal comments.
    With this day and age, I think we all in the industry have to surmise that we can’t hold information anymore. Once it’s aired…it’s aired and will be blogged about.
    Great discussion as always.

  6. I agree with Reed Kavner, it’s your responsibility to protect yourself. If you don’t want to accidentally see spoilers don’t go to the boards.
    I also try to be courteous and label any spoilers I may be about to reveal. Even to the point of having my subject line say “spoiler alert” so that people to don’t want to take the chance can skip the message.
    An old fashioned method that I still use is to give a spoiler alert and add some space (for those browsers that compress empty lines add a few lines with a couple of periods on them) before the spoiler appears. I’ve seen websites where people have set the font to white with a note to highlight the text to see the spoiler.
    Basically, a little self monitoring and courtesy goes a long way. After that, you’re getting silly. IMHO.

  7. Great piece. As a journalist who is often given screeners, I’m always torn as to how much to reveal about a given episode. I’ve got people begging for details and others who whine if I post the title of an episode. Yikes! A title is not a spoiler. Neither is the official synopsis or a photo, and yet, I’ve seen fan communities yell at someone to take down the icon they use because the image is “spoilery.”
    For the spoilerphobes, 48 EST hours is more than enough – after that, it’s fair game.
    For those who love a good spoiler, the Internet is a real gold mine, isn’t it?

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