The year 2005 has come to feel like ancient times in the history of Internet fan culture. Back then, YouTube was new, few geeks needed to have opinions on “social justice,” and Tobey Maguire was still the face of the (lower-case) Marvel cinematic universe. Most bewilderingly, “spoiler warning” wasn’t a common term—in fact, the concept of mass spoiling was so novel as to become a pastime in itself.
That year saw the release of the sixth Harry Potter book, which contained the most shocking twist to date in J.K. Rowling’s ongoing saga of Muggles and magic. Online, images of the page revealing that twist went viral prior to publication. On the night of the book’s release, some trolls drove around to the Barnes & Noble shops where fans had lined up in costume and shouted—here’s my spoiler warning!—“Snape kills Dumbledore!” The wails of the suddenly sullied masses were recorded in videos uploaded, as such things were in those days, to eBaumsworld. Someone took out a billboard with the offending information, and The Onion later sent up the whole mess with the headline “Final Harry Potter Book Blasted For Containing Spoilers.”
This was a moment of savagery that society had to live through in order to get somewhere more civilized. There hasn’t been quite as mass a spoiling as “Snape Kills Dumbledore” since 2005, though there has been anguished debate over how exactly fans and critics should go about discussing, say, Game of Thrones book developments that have yet to air on TV. By now, a pretty sturdy—if imperfect—code of conduct has developed. If you’re going to talk about soon-to-air or recently aired (or published) twists, warn people beforehand. Don’t put surprising information in headlines. Start a separate thread. Basically: Show some courtesy to others.