I’m a big fan of the TV series “The Walking Dead.” It airs Sunday nights, and I rarely miss an episode. If I do, it means watching it from our DVR on Monday nights.
Missing the original airdate requires avoiding social media all day Monday for fear of reading reviews of the show, or seeing an image or meme about the show that might reveal important information.
In essence, I like to avoid any chance of catching subtle or overt spoilers from the night before.
What’s a spoiler? They’re pieces of information that come close (if not all the way) to giving away important details of a plot.
I liken the TV spoiler to skipping to the last chapter of a great book.
It’s natural to want to go to social media during and after our favorite TV shows to share the experience with other fans. Popular TV shows have made it common promotional practice to include Twitter addresses and hashtags as “bugs” in the bottom right- or left-hand-side of our screens to drive us to their social media platforms.
Social media has made it easy for us to connect with fellow viewers from around the world and share the viewing experiences. But for some people, sharing the experience might mean ruining it, or spoiling it, for others.
I recently asked some of my friends on Facebook if anyone had fallen victim to the social media spoiler.
Of course, when I posted my question, some friends used it as an opportunity to post their own spoilers, such as [SPOILER ALERT] “Darth Vader is actually Luke Skywalker’s dad. Can you believe it?!”
Spoilers take on all shapes and sizes and genres. For example, the sports spoiler was a recurring theme.
“Social media has essentially replaced the DVR,” said Ed Jenkins. “Instead of recording and watching later, my ESPN SportsCenter, Twitter and Bleacher Report apps tell the ending to the story in real time. During football season I find myself turning off notifications on all social media apps to not spoil my ‘delayed sports viewing experience.’”
Some suggested strategies for avoiding social media spoilers.
“If I miss ‘The Walking Dead’ I literally will not go on Facebook until I watch it,” said fellow ‘Dead’ fan, Megan Coene. “One time I even put my phone in airplane mode.”
Others aren’t that concerned about spoilers.
“It’s kind of expected at this point,” said Sam Marhulik. “People want to discuss immediately after the show, and that to me is the sign of a good program. Whether I see what happened or not, it isn’t going to deter me from watching.”
Other fans suggest it’s time to establish some spoiler etiquette.
“Ideally, Facebook and Twitter would implement spoiler tags,” said Bob McGovern. “What’s an appropriate time after which something is no longer a spoiler? Basically it’s about when the burden shifts from the viewer to the person for whom the show [might be] spoiled.”
Are you a social media spoiler or spoilee? Share your stories and tips with me on Twitter @adamearn or in the comments section below.
~ A version of this post appeared in the March 29, 2015 "Connected" section of The Vindicator newspaper.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is associate professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about social media and technology, sports and fans.