The End of Spoiler Culture

If I can search keywords on Facebook and Twitter, why can’t I filter them?

Visit Facebook on a Monday morning and your timeline, if you’re anything like me, probably looks something like this:

The publishers I love to follow, without fail, will always write content on the same topics, and more often than not, it’s a topic I’m interested in…but that doesn’t mean I’m interested in reading that content. One day it’s Donald Trump, the next it’s Game of Thrones. You know the drill.

But here’s the issue. If I can search for these topics with such precision, and they are algorithmically delivered to me with such consistency, why is there no way to temporarily avoid reading about these topics or filter them out entirely without avoiding social media as a whole. Is this a deliberate decision to deprive users of the option, or a technical challenge that’s actively trying to be solved? This exists on Twitter too, although it’s more of a problem in-the-moment than the morning after, but it’s just an example of a glaring user experience option missing from both social networks.

In my opinion, it’s one of the most obvious features or customizability options that Facebook and Twitter can probably add without much difficulty to make their users happier, increase time spent on their site/app, and, dare I say, remove “spoiler alert” from our vocabulary.

If I want to avoid reading something about a TV show, a new movie that I haven’t seen yet, a sporting event that I can’t watch live, or any other major cultural event, I shouldn’t have to avoid social media all together.

Spoilers have always been a part of our culture, but today’s technology is so powerful it seems equipped to kill spoiler culture once and for all.

This problem has existed forever, but it first struck me a few weeks ago when I was talking to my friend on Gchat about Captain America: Civil War after I had seen it opening night, and it went something like this…

Me: Dude, Civil War was incredible. Best Marvel movie ever, hands down. 
Him: Wow, awesome, I’m going to try and see it this weekend. Anything big happen?
Me: I’m not going to tell you and spoil something, you should know me better than that by now. 
Him: Okay, thanks, I guess I’ll just stay of Facebook and Twitter for the next few days.

He already knew Spiderman would be in the movie, since Marvel marketing spoiled that potentially delightful surprise in the third trailer, but something tells me the folks at Facebook and Twitter would rather count my friend (and countless others) as a daily active user instead of them avoiding social media entirely for 72 hours. Will they lose more revenue from advertisers and publishers if people like my friend don’t visit their app or site at all, or if my friend simply doesn’t see certain, specific content and the reach of that content is smaller, but refined to an audience more likely to engage with it?

Avoiding the weekly news cycle of a popular TV show between episodes because you haven’t seen it yet or aren’t interested in reading so much about it that it feels like you’ve seen the next episode before it’s aired is one aspect of this, but it goes deeper. When a new series is released on Netflix, reporters spend their weekend binge-watching, live tweeting, and publishing episode-by-episode reviews in real time. As a culture, we’ve fundamentally changed the way we consume entertainment in the past few years.

I’m glad that a show like LOST aired between 2004–2010, because if it came out today, the online analysis and obsession every week would be too much to handle. The thing is, people obsessing and talking about shows, movies, sports, and other topics has always existed…it’s just that today it’s being shoved down our throats. That’s what forums are for. That’s what friends are for.

LOST, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The West Wing, The Wire, and Sopranos are some of the greatest and most entertaining, interesting television shows of all time, but just because they aren’t on TV anymore doesn’t mean that everyone who may have wanted to watch them already has. The current state of the media, however, would make you believe that if you aren’t watching it in the moment, binge-watching it by their side, you’ve already missed the boat.

Is it too late to watch The People vs. OJ Simpson? I already know how it ends (OJ did it, gets away with it) and I still feel like the show has been ruined for me!

In the early days of Facebook, I started conversations with my friends, but now, publishers start the conversations for us, pushing revealing headlines into our line of sight, even if we don’t want to participate in the conversation.

Here’s my point: if you know you want to watch a show, movie, debate, game, or event at some point, whether it be two days from now or two years from now, shouldn’t you be able to COMPLETELY filter that topic out of your social feed and be able to enjoy it when you get around to it?

So what are the current options?

I can stop using social media entirely.

I can unfollow Buzzfeed on Facebook, and every other publisher under the sun writing about the topic du jour, which I don’t want and the publisher doesn’t want. I wouldn’t follow them if I don’t enjoy their content as a whole, there are just certain contexts in which I don’t want to see specific things they talk about. Plus, since these publishers generate the most revenue, they also have the best writers (just a guess) and the most leeway to experiment with more interesting, thoughtful, original content I want to read.

I can “hide post” to see fewer posts like this, but that’s a pretty vague option. Am I hiding more posts about TV shows? Ones with “SPOILERS!” in the description? Game of Thrones posts in general, forever? That’s far from an ideal (or practical) option.

I watch Game of Thrones live every Sunday night, but the constant recaps and fan theories over the course of the week between episodes can get overwhelming and annoying. I can’t be the only person who feels this way.

On Twitter, the options are even less practical. I can Mute or Block the publisher, but nothing else. Considering how advanced the trending and search functions are, and the live nature of the platform itself, it’s surprising the opposite isn’t an option.

So if there isn’t a direct way within Facebook and Twitter to solve this problem and remove specific keywords and potential spoilers from your social feed, the next best option is a third party option.

I spent some time digging through Product Hunt and found a few tools, plug-ins, and chrome extensions that accomplish the goal. These resources are available in my first Product Hunt Collection, which I felt compelled to create. My favorite so far are Trump Filter and Gatekeeper, but I hope to discover more and eventually wake up one day to see the option natively built within each social network, not just for my convenience, but for everyones.

If I’m out for dinner and drinks and recording the Mets game (remember that Seinfeld episode?), what option below would you say is the most ideal circumstance?

  1. I avoid using Twitter and Facebook for 5 hours.
  2. I unfollow @Mets and every other Mets related Twitter and Facebook account I follow before dinner, then follow them back later that night.
  3. I filter “Mets” when I open either app, and see all of the tweets and Facebook posts from the thousands of people I follow or am connected to that don’t have anything to do with the Mets.

Give us option 3, please.

If you want to see the option to filter specific keywords from your Facebook and Twitter feeds added in 2016, recommend this post. I can’t promise it will make a difference, but it can’t hurt to try.

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