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Spoilers and new media: what to do?.

Have you ever clicked on content-related to one of your favorite shows and had a major plot-point revealed before you watched the most recent episode?

If so, you've been a victim of a "spoiler," a term familiar to most readers. Spoilers vary in severity and relevance, but they have become more prevalent with the advent of social media and streaming services.

If I tell you Romeo and Juliet die at the end of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, no one will yell at me for ruining anything as the story's been around for hundreds of years and its ending is common knowledge. However, if I tell you who died at the end of Game of Thrones season seven, I might be the one killed, not the Bard's young protagonists. Clearly, there should be an expiration date on spoilers, especially those attached to media products that have entered the cultural consciousness.

Another variable when it comes to spoilers is the genre of the media text. Comedies, documentaries and other film genres usually don't have spoilers because the plot line itself is unessential to the enjoyment of the product. Dramas, action-adventure and horror programs, among others, rely on surprise and twists to keep consumers entertained.

With the introduction of streaming as a way to consume our favorite shows, episodic programs can be released all at once, as Netflix commonly does. As a consumer attempting to avoid having my favorite programs ruined by inconsiderate fans, I quickly binge-watch the entire season. However, that is an unrealistic expectation for most watchers.

There has been academic research done into this phenomenon. Recent research calls for automatic spoiler detection through algorithms and other means. This need has only recently become more pressing with the advent of social media. There is a Google Chrome extension claiming to check webpages for those spoilers and replace them with a warning labels. But who wants to manually enter in each program you don't want spoiled?

Some platforms allow viewers to "blacklist" certain words or phrases so they don't see posts or content containing those items to avoid spoilers, but it is far from a perfect system as it relies on users tagging their own content. Many stars and fans "live-tweet" not only sporting events, but television episode premiers on Twitter.

Avoiding spoilers has become a minefield

But why does so much effort goes into skirting those crucial details that can make-or-break enjoyment? Is it simply the need for an unsullied viewing or reading experience? Why spoilers matter so much largely depends on viewers, according to recent research. Each human watches television for different reasons. If you're looking for a distraction from the stress and horrors of everyday life, spoilers probably wouldn't worry you much. However, if you're the kind of viewer picking television shows for their quality and wants to be invested in the plot, spoilers become a problem.

We need guidelines for what is and isn't okay to discuss, how long to wait to post essential plot details and what warnings to post when you do. Some news websites such as Vulture have created rules for themselves in the past. They created the "official Vulture statute of limitations," and though it was hotly contested for the amount of time they allowed for viewers to make sure they had consumed the content before putting unmarked spoilers in stories on their site, they made an effort to police themselves. However, it isn't just their responsibility.

Clearly people care about their favorite shows and watching them without knowing what's going to happen. In addition, there is the need to discuss shows in a fan community. In the days of the message board before the more ubiquitous forms of social media, things were easier to avoid. But when everyone you follow on Facebook or Twitter is posting and tweeting out possible spoilers, they are more difficult to dodge. And then there are the "trolls"--people who purposefully seek to spoil programs for other fans for the pure enjoyment of making someone else sad.

There are many challenges facing people caring about keeping their viewing experience pure of outside information. There are many reasons why we care about not having our shows spoiled. Some argue that everyone should watch television and films as they are released. But few have that kind of time or money. When there were just a few networks, keeping up was much simpler. There is one thing we can do to uncomplicate things: Don't spoil things for other people.

It's the right thing to do. Don't tweet out who got eaten alive by zombies in the third season of The Walking Dead. In the grand scheme of things, your opinions don't particularly matter unless you're getting paid to share them. Stick to Reddit threads that have been purposefully created just for discussing the most recent installment of whatever show you love.

This goes a little further than simple self-policing. Calling out people who purposefully seek to spoil also falls within this responsibility. Viewers should never have to feel the devastation of knowing their favorite character dies before they even get to watch it happen.

No question, there are bigger issues society needs to tackle. But while this may sound trivial, reducing the instance of spoilers is something we all can do to help fellow viewers.

by Katie Hinders
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Title Annotation:OPINION
Author:Hinders, Katie
Publication:Gateway Journalism Review
Date:Sep 22, 2017
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