HAVE YOU noticed that Twitter offers the ability to mute keywords, allowing users to block tweets featuring, say, the phrase “Great British Bake Off”?
Facebook has followed suit, testing a “snooze” function and promising that hiding keywords from your feed for 30 days will “prevent heartache” so you can “spend more time focusing on the things that matter”.
Belatedly, the tech giants are realising that the features that keep us hooked — push alerts, trending topics and so on — can also be intensely annoying. But there’s another reason: spoilers.
In our globalised culture, the biggest films and TV series are watched — and talked about — around the world but often air first in America. Media companies may be able to control who sees their content, but trying to control people tweeting or posting about it is like trying to put a chain-link fence around the ocean.
If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, there’s nothing worse than seeing an episode spoilt by a tweet about Jon Snow’s latest brush with death.
It’s a particular problem for social networks, which have moved away from chronological timelines to an algorithmically generated blend of old and new.
It’s not only on social media where spoiler sensitivity is rife. From live television to streaming services, we want to be kept in suspense. But I submit the anti-spoiler thing has gone a bit far.
When I reviewed Coriolanus, and mentioned that the production ended with its lead actor, Tom Hiddleston, hanging from a meat hook — still rakishly attractive but nonetheless dead — someone complained that I had “spoilered” the play. Come on, I thought, it’s been 400 years. The joy of Pride and Prejudice isn’t ruined by revealing that Elizabeth and Darcy eventually get together.
Or maybe it is for those raised in our thrill-obsessed culture. The Paris Review noted: “We no longer read books or watch TV shows and movies for their gestalt” — the whole experience — “art is now only as powerful as the emotions it exploits.”
If so, the tech giants will be keen to save us from spoilers — if only to stop us logging off.
Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman