Up For Discussion: Twitter, TV and Spoilers

We live in an age of time-shifted TV viewing. What are the rules of spoiler etiquette now?

Last night Drew McWeeny and Anthony Breznican got into a Twitter argument about spoilers. Spoilers are like our big first world problem in the geek community, a total obsession with some people who mistake surprise for good storytelling. But what Drew and Anthony were arguing about wasn't exactly that - it was more about the specifics of how we discuss TV shows on social media.

Last night's Mad Men was a whopper (read Film Crit Hulk's review here), and many people took to Twitter to talk about it. Drew, who wouldn't be getting around to seeing the episode until some future time, took umbrage at the information that was popping up in his Twitter stream, especially from Breznican, who watches shows on the Eastern time feed and happily posts lots of sorta spoilery stuff on his Twitter. 

Drew's stand is that in an age of time-shifted TV viewing, people should be more considerate about how they discuss TV shows on social media, where anyone can glance upon a spoiler without even realizing it. Anthony's stand is that he should be able to discuss the show however he pleases. 

I think I mostly take Breznican's side on this one. When you're time-shifting your viewing, the onus is upon you to make sure you're not getting spoiled. You're watching the show on your schedule, but you don't get to make the schedule for the discussion. Drew and I are both old enough to remember a time when if you didn't see a TV episode first airing you had to wait until reruns to catch it. VCRs introduced the idea of watching a show you weren't home to see, but in my experience that still ended up being fairly immediate - you didn't have six weeks of a show piling up on your VHS tape the way they will pile up on a DVR.

Of course I think there should always be some courtesy when it comes to talking about really, immensely spoilery thing - like deaths, or major plot surprises - but the reality is that there's no avoiding these things. Twitter is especially bad, because a character's name becoming a trending topic can be a spoiler in itself. If there's a show I'm deeply interested in I stay off Twitter beginning when the show airs on the East Coast and keep myself away until I've seen it. And if it's a show like Mad Men, I make sure to see it the night it airs. 

The culture will discuss these things in something approaching real time. When you make the decision to time-shift your viewing, you've given up the right to be upset when the culture gets excited about something without you. And the statute of limitations on TV spoilers is really, really short - like, spoilers are fair game when the next episode airs, in my opinion (I recently saw someone get upset that people were 'spoiling' Starburns' death on Community when discussing the episode about his memorial service, which seemed silly to me). 

For me it's all about taking responsibility for your own viewing - you decided to watch it late, so you have to accept the consequences. You can't expect everybody else to tiptoe around your schedule, even people in other time zones. 

What do you guys think?