Aphelion Issue 242, Volume 23
August 2019
 
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A Word In Your Ear

Spoiler Etiquette In The Internet Age

by Rob Wynne


Last year, an event occurred on a popular television show.  Because the television show is based on a popular book, many people knew the event was going to occur.  Many people, who had not read the popular books, were unaware of the impending event and were surprised.  Many people who had read the popular books wanted to talk about the event, now that it had finally happened.  Many people who watch the popular television but watch it time-shifted rather than live were startled when suddenly, without warning, the Internet lost its mind and Twitter violently exploded.

The next morning, I made a post on a Facebook group where I am a moderator.  Anticipating that the above was going to be the topic of spirited conversation, I said the following:

Careful with the <popular television show> spoilers, guys.

If you're behind on the series, read comments at your own risk. Try and keep spoilers out of main posts, so people can decide whether or not to read them.

General spoiler etiquette says you should give at least a week of courtesy after an episode airs, because many people watch the show on DVRs or other time-shifting methods.

I thought (and still think) that this was a perfectly reasonable set of guidelines.  The subject wasn't declared off-topic, nor were people asked to avoid spoilers entirely.  I asked folks to try and put the spoilers in the comments rather than the main post, so people trying to avoid them would have an easier time1, and asked people who wanted to avoid them to be careful and stay out of the comments threads of posts about the show so they could avoid them more easily, and put a reasonable time limit for this particular courtesy to be in effect.

And yet...

Among the reactions I got to this request included:

  • "People who have not see it read Facebook at their own risk."
  • "This episode is a little different because people who have seen it really want to talk about it."
  • "People who don't want spoilers should read the books."
  • "I don't think you should ever have spoilers ever, no matter how old the thing in question is"
  • "Once you see the episode, you will probable do what most people did and post about it immediately."
  •  "A lot of TV shows and (especially) films come out at different times. Japan doesn't get Star Trek until September, Man of Steel; August. Having them spoiled because people think that they've been 'out long enough' sucks."
  • "[By] that logic, we can never talk about tv shows or movies."
  • "Sorry but there WILL be spoilers on the Internet (shocking, I know) and some of us feel the [group] is the only place we can share these things."
  • "[Some studies show that] people seem to enjoy stuff more if they know what's gonna happen. Therefore, if you come across a spoiler? You're welcome. LOL"
  • "I think people are all too damn sensitive."
  • "I made a point of being discreet when Avengers, Iron Man 3,Star Trek, Harry Potter, The Hobbit came out [in the UK] first, is the consensus that when the next blockbuster is released I shouldn't be constrained?"

Seriously, the tone of some commentators suggested they were only moments away from painting themselves blue and declaring "They can take away our spoiler posts, but they'll never take away our FREEDOM!"2

I'm not personally put out by spoilers, and that goes doubly so in this case, where I've read the books the television programme is based on and have therefore been in the camp of folks waiting for the inevitable event to occur.  But how I feel about spoilers isn't really the point.  Nor, if I'm honest, is how you feel about spoilers the point.

The point is that when we all are existing here in public, as a community, we have a moral obligation to be considerate of the thoughts and feelings of other people who are participating in that same community.  As Kurt Vonnegut so memorably says, " There's only one rule that I know of, babies--God damn it, you've got to be kind."

It's a little bit inconvenient to make sure you put your comments behind cut-tags or outside of the main body of a post to ensure that other folks won't trip over it.  And it's a little bit inconvenient to have to carefully navigate through online discussion forums to make sure you don't read something you didn't want to, because you haven't had a chance to see the latest thing everyone's talking about.  And it's inconvenient that at some point, we all decide it's been out long enough for everyone to discuss it freely without worrying that someone hasn't seen it yet, because there's only so long you can keep on your guard.

These little inconveniences that we all put up with for the sake of a more gentle and kind society?  Gentle reader, they are called manners.

And I, for one, am in favour of them.

________________________

1 It's worth noting that Facebook is singularly bad for this, because of the way it displays posts and comments.  But this was about best efforts, and there's only so much you can do.

2 Those so inclined might wish to revisit just how well that worked out for Mr. Wallace.  (Spoiler:  Not well)


© 2014 Rob Wynne

Rob Wynne is a musician, podcaster, gamer, con runner, and occasional blogger who currently lives in Seattle. In 1997, he helped Dan Hollifield create Aphelion Webzine, and has been on the committee of Gafilk, the Georgia filk convention, since 1999. In 2011, he helped launch the podcast Tadpoolery, a general interest geek-oriented show.

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