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In Web Forums, Newsgroups and Chat Rooms, what is a Spoiler?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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Let’s assume you’ve just logged on to your favorite Web forum or chat room. You’re happily reading some recent discussion about a favorite television series when a poster with inside information reveals a key upcoming point about a character’s fate! She dies?! Really?!, you think to yourself in shock. But soon the shock is replaced by irritation. Like a bad accident, you couldn’t look away, and now the plot has been spoiled for you. You’ve just read a spoiler.

There’s an old saying that there are no secrets in Hollywood, and ever since the Internet became a household pastime, there aren’t many secrets anywhere! Spoilers run rampant online, and many turn out to be true. For those who want to avoid spoilers, participating in newsgroups, Web forums or chat rooms can be a tricky business.

But not everyone is adverse to the infamous spoiler. Some fans can’t wait for plots to unfold and hunt down spoilers with outright doggedness. These people are also usually keen to be the first to bring the “spoils” of the hunt back to the discussion group they call home. There is a certain satisfaction in supplying a much-wanted spoiler for online buddies. For these people, knowing ahead of time just makes the wait more delicious, as they look forward to seeing how the spoiler will unfold.

While a current television series makes a good example for explaining what a spoiler is, books and movies are also subject to spoilers. This is especially true if the book or movie is part of an ongoing series, such as the Harry Potter franchise.

Although some people absolutely hate spoilers and others love them, many people have divided loyalties. For some, a spoiler might be fine for one show, but unwanted for another. Others might find that they don’t want to be spoiled for a certain event, but in general they don’t mind reading spoilers.

Luckily, voluntary netiquette addresses the problem quite effectively. If a post contains spoiler information, the word “spoiler” should be noted in the subject title of the post, preferably in caps. When people see, Warning! SPOILER! they have the chance to pass on the post if they so choose.

In some cases it might be prudent to include the subject of the spoiler in the title without revealing what the spoiler is. For example, you might title a spoiler in this fashion: Warning! [Character’s Name] SPOILER!, or Season Finale SPOILER!.

In all cases it is very bad form to include too much information in post titles, as it leaves no room for avoidance. Therefore, refrain from putting things like OMG! Ken shot him! or She’s pregnant again! in your subject title. Even after an episode airs there will be people who had to TiVo it or haven’t gotten around to seeing it yet. They might scan post titles and threads carefully picking out certain things to read. With just a modicum of cooperation discussion groups can be enjoyed by all, fans of spoilers and non-fans alike.

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Discussion Comments
By Soulfox — On May 28, 2014

@Terrificli -- that's a good example of how you don't need the Internet to annoy people with spoilers. Remember that "The Crying Game" movie that came out in the early 1990s? There was actually a campaign begging people not to reveal the surprise ending of the movie to people who haven't seen it yet.

As for the "spoiler alert" warnings, it is great how that has become standard Internet etiquette. That may be one of the few things people in chat rooms and such can agree on.

By Terrificli — On May 27, 2014

I have actually seen spoilers in a print newspaper before. That kind of tactic is, without question, not socially acceptable. That happened around 15 years ago and still irritates me.

At least people on the Internet generally have the common courtesy to preface posts with the very familiar "spoiler alert" tag to warn people.

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