In Depth

Column: A Novel Netiquette Solution to Spoilers

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.

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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.