Spoilers used to be so easy. First you watched something, then you discussed it with your friends, who were almost certainly watching at the same time, and then that was it. Now, though, it’s a minefield. Nobody watches anything at the same time, and everyone blurts their opinions on social media as soon as they’ve seen anything. It’s a free-for-all, and it’s untenable. This can only mean one thing: it is time to definitively locate the point when spoiling a film or TV show is OK.
Clearly, that isn’t before the thing has actually come out. Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped an entire spoiler cottage industry from springing up in recent years. Some nefarious movie insider will post spoilers – sometimes the entire plot – of a film to Reddit, and these secrets are then disseminated online and into newspapers. Before you know it, everyone knows what happens in Infinity War and nobody has any fun watching it, all thanks to a mouthy berk on the internet.
You should also be careful if you are tweeting while a TV show is actually being broadcast, because these days the live audience only represents a fraction of total viewers. Sure, if a show isn’t particularly high-status, you’re probably fine to spoil it like crazy because most people won’t care (so by all means tweet “OMG I can’t believe this guy on Traffic Cops was driving relatively fast in a residential area!!”). But if it’s a show you’ve been looking forward to, it’s best to assume that others who aren’t watching live will also be looking forward to it. Tweeting gifs of Daenerys dying before the final episode of Game of Thrones has finished is, and will always be, a dick move.
However, there is a way round this, and we’ll use Avengers: Endgame as an example. Before its release, the film’s directors and stars relentlessly tweeted the hashtag #DontSpoilTheEndgame, asking fans to keep shtum about plot details until the Monday after its release. It was a genius move: at once raising the profile of the film, making fans feel complicit in its success and encouraging everyone to cram into cinemas during opening weekend. Increasingly, this feels like the best way to go. If creators can be proactive in asking viewers to keep a secret, it has a much better chance of working. That said, if they had asked for longer than a three-day silence, the embargo would have crumbled. So: when is it OK to spoil a film or TV show? The answer is after between three to five days, unless informed otherwise.
However, please remember that spoilers are a two-way street. If you are particularly spoilerphobic, it is your responsibility to tread carefully. Assume that the thing you want to watch has already been spoiled and take the proper precautions. Don’t Google the thing until you’ve watched it. Mute the title of the show on Twitter in advance. Definitely, under no circumstances, visit any sort of pop culture site between the time of broadcast and the moment you watch it. Or it will be spoiled. I didn’t see Endgame until the Tuesday after its release. I know what I’m talking about.