You’re all set and prepared. It’s a late day in the office, the last email’s been sent, and your Seamless order’s been placed. You’re ready for a night of vertically challenged relaxation, takeout and catching up on your DVR queue.
But before you leave, you scroll through your social feed and one of your random haven’t-spoken-to-since-high-school-connections let’s you know your favorite character died—in the episode you’re just about to watch. You cancel Seamless, unfriend your friend and immediately book a kickboxing class.
Welcome to the age of social spoilers.
The irony of today is that we’re living in both a time-shifted and hyper real-time world at the exact same time. We can watch what we want, when we want, and in the case of Netflix all we want, but the exact second one of those characters gets offed, chokes on a glass of wine or has the worst wedding ceremony ever, the Internet and social spheres are abuzz and the best thing you can do is hide your digital devices far, far away.
It used to be that people gathered around the water cooler, discussing pop culture, and if someone was about to spoil, you could shout, run away or simply go with a pair of impromptu earmuffs.
But today we spend as much time “socializing” on social media as we do in real-life, and we’ve become power consumers of information, reading over 300 posts per day on Facebook alone, and scrolling quickly through hundreds of others, on a variety of platforms. Evidence also suggests Millennials scroll 2.5 faster than average humans through social feeds, giving them spoiler super powers.
Add all of this up, and it’s time for new rules of social posting and social scrolling to save us all from the heartbreak of finding out our favorite characters were floating in the afterlife all along (meta spoiler-alert).
In a nutshell, stay off Twitter if you haven’t seen the episode. Almost all showrunners, social media marketers and celebrities believe in real-time tweeting, spoilers included. If you’re a spoiler poster, feel free to rant and rave, and spoil to your heart’s delight knowing full well spoilees have only themselves to blame.
Unless of course you’re the host of the biggest reality show ever, and you give away the results early.
Facebook is not nearly as real-time as Twitter, and as a result, some unofficial spoiler rules have started to become the norm. For one thing, many shows agree on no real-time spoilers, especially when the West Coast audience hasn’t even seen the episode yet. AMC had to post a formal apology for The Walking Dead back in 2014, and since then we’ve come some way towards at least a 24 hour window for most shows, and in some cases many official accounts won’t touch that week’s episode for a couple days afterward.
If you’d like to spoil however, a courtesy spoiler alert is always welcome. And due to Facebook truncating longer posts, you can do so without users scrolling through your spoiler unless they click to view more. Though some variation exists, in general Facebook truncates desktop messages at around 400 characters, and on mobile at around 477 characters. So post your spoiler alert, then spend those 400+ characters on a preamble, musing on life, or oversharing before getting to your spoiler.
Like Facebook, many showrunners and marketers stay away from spoiling too soon on Instagram. Twenty-four hours seems like a minimum to post spoilers, and in many cases, a couple days more.
And TV discussion is not nearly as prevalent there as on Twitter and Facebook, with only 70k hashtag search results for #spoiler. It’s a far cry away from other hashtags on the foodie-favorite platform, with both #Yum and #Yummy clocking in the Top 50 at well over 10 million each.
But keep in mind no matter what platform you’re on, following celebrities is pretty much a recipe for disaster when it comes to spoilers. They are often every bit as engaged with shows—as both creators and fans—as we are except that the term social media fail was basically invented for them. Though Instagram is generally regarded as safe, Lena Dunham pulled a major spoiler for Girls she was forced to apologize for.
All that aside, there’s nothing better to solve technology’s problems—than with more technology. Google recently patented a technology that will search feeds and prevent spoilers, and even promoted a spoiler blocker for Star Wars on the Chrome store.
Another company called Spoiler Shield actively blocks spoilers from your social media feed.
But until that day when technology does indeed solve all of our problems, you’re on your own to navigate the social media minefield of spoilers. Stay off Twitter, Avoid FB in the immediate days after, download a spoiler blocker and un-follow loose-lipped celebrities. Or better yet, chat with some people in real-life and debate that cliffhanger moment outside the social sphere for a couple days. You might just find it even more enjoyable after-all!