This week, something peculiar happened on the internet.
While that's not too odd — something peculiar always happens on the internet — this directly impacted Game of Thrones fans. On Saturday, the most recent episode of the show was leaked online. The episode, which was unfortunately released a day early through HBO Nordic, was immediately shared around the world and even the network itself seemed to just accept what had happened.
Who said pirates couldn't be respectful?
Here's the peculiar bit: Despite the episode being pirated, shared and downloaded by thousands, people weren't going around ruining it for those who were waiting until Sunday night to watch it. Instead, they were posting links to the episode with an array of spoiler alerts, giving people who didn't want to know anything the chance to turn back if they so wished. For a minute, it seemed like spoiler culture had found an inner peace with itself, with those who were privy to knowledge of what happened not hellbent on spoiling it for everyone else. Who said pirates couldn't be respectful?
But then Sunday night rolled around and social media networks — especially Twitter — proved that spoiler culture was indeed still around, and perhaps even worse, it was getting harder to avoid as big-time publications decided to approach livetweeting with a no-holds-barred attitude.
It used to be that a publication would livetweet an episode of Game of Thrones through sly references, a string of jokes that could only be understood if you were watching along or by trying to garner some traffic through links to previous stories about the show while it was airing.
Get off of Twitter. Seriously.
Even this type of tweeting resulted in slight outrage from those who kept Twitter running while watching an episode, but it wasn't too big of a problem. If a website promoting itself during peak hours to gain some more traffic is an issue, we're going to have to rethink this entire internet thing.
Now, however, it's every man or woman for themselves as trying to dodge spoiler-filled bullets has become nearly impossible after 9:01 p.m. ET. For those who don't mind being spoiled, like myself, it's just a bit of an annoyance. But for those that don't want to know anything before getting a chance to watch it themselves, there's only one option: Get off of Twitter. Seriously.
This isn't new advice. Since livetweeting became a thing that people dedicated their time to doing, the suggestion for those looking to avoid being spoiled has been to get off of social networking in general. But then Twitter introduced the muting option and you could take care of those pesky few who decided to turn their Twitter channel into the CNN of Game of Thrones coverage, providing live updates and analysis for 60 minutes straight. It seemed like things were getting better.
Then big-time publications decided to get in on the action that many had already deemed as inexplicably rude. And while you can decide to mute all of these publications, it does become a bit of a hassle. For someone like myself, too, it's impossible to mute any major publication for an hour in case an absolutely massive story breaks. So I made the choice to be spoiled by four or five of the publications that I follow. That doesn't include, by the way, the various writers also livetweeting the episode for work.
It's impossible to be on Twitter anymore and not be spoiled, so your only option left is to get off Twitter entirely. Not just for the hour, either, but for the rest of the night, and presumably, until you've actually seen the episode. For many, the concept of staying off Twitter for a couple of hours and watching a show without the background noise of people tweeting away isn't difficult. For some, however, television watching as an experience has transformed from a solitary activity to something that you do with people online. Live television isn't the event anymore; livetweeting with the rest of the world is.
It's because of this mentality that we have, pressuring ourselves into thinking of clever commentary or competing for the best jokes of the night, that we've created this ecosystem where only those watching something live can be on Twitter for that period of time. It's the feeling of exclusivity, chasing the idea that we're all watching this together and experiencing what's happening on our television screens for the first time as a collective unit.
In doing so, we've redefined what it means to watch television live and for those who don't have premium cable subscriptions or HBO Now, that means that to avoid spoilers you have to exclude yourself from that community. Avoiding spoilers means accepting that your television viewing experience returns to being a solitary activity for many, joining in on the online conversation after the fact.
So what's the next step? We can't ask publications to stop livetweeting, that's their prerogative. And if it works for them from a business standpoint, then all the power. But Twitter on Sunday nights has become a minefield. It's impossible to simply enjoy Twitter for what it is and be a consumer of television content trying to avoid being spoiled at the same time. So you have to choose whether or not to avoid using social media one night out of the week every week or take the spoilers and feel like you're a part of this exclusive community.
Watching and consuming television content has never been easier, but our etiquette for those who simply can't watch it live has never been poorer.