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A spoiler is an element of a disseminated summary or description of any piece of fiction that reveals any plot elements which threaten to give away important details concerning the turn of events of a dramatic episode. Typically, the details of the conclusion of the plot, including the climax and ending, are especially regarded as spoiler material. It can also be used to refer to any piece of information regarding any part of a given media that a potential consumer would not want to know beforehand. Because enjoyment of fiction depends a great deal upon the suspense of revealing plot details through standard narrative progression, the prior revelation of how things will turn out can "spoil" the enjoyment that some consumers of the narrative would otherwise have experienced. Spoilers can be found in message boards, articles, reviews, commercials, and movie trailers.
The words "SPOILER ALERT" in full capitals are usually used to warn readers of a spoiler.
The term spoiler was introduced in the early days of the internet, on the internet, and is often associated with specialist internet sites and in newsgroup postings. Early rules of netiquette insisted that spoilers could and should be normally avoided, but if the posting of "spoiling" information was unavoidable, it be preceded by a warning, such as "SPOILER ALERT" or the spoiler itself has to be masked so that it can not be visible to any but those keen for details and not fazed at the thought of such potentially plot-revealing information.
Sometimes, these warnings are omitted, accidentally or deliberately (see below), and some unwitting readers have had literature, films, television programmes and other works that they were looking forward to experiencing "spoiled".
There is among internet users a socially unique but pointedly expressed insistence on being protected from material considered to include "spoiler" information by website operators or forum moderators, even in the internet version of settings where such material has conventionally and historically appeared, such as discussion groups or literary reviews. As a result of this level of objection to spoilers, trolls may post them purely for their own pleasure, finding amusement in believing they are completely ruining a narrative experience for others. On reputable websites, these can be reported to moderators and such posts taken down, the posters blacklisted, but only after the fact. Conversely, many who wish to discuss a fictional work in depth, including the outcomes of events and the handling of the narrative resolution, feel compelled to avoid participating on public websites altogether, set up "closed" websites to exclude those who are sensitive about spoilers, or unilaterally blog at the expense of public exchange. The appearance of spoilers on an internet website is not considered a violation of terms and conditions by any ISP.
On Usenet, the common method for obscuring spoiler information is to precede it with many blank lines known as 'spoiler space' – traditionally enough to push the information in question on to the next screen of a 25-line terminal. A simple cipher called ROT13 is also used in newsgroups to obscure spoilers, but is rarely used for this purpose elsewhere.
Some producers actively seed bogus information in order to misdirect fans. The director of the film Terminator Salvation orchestrated a "disinformation campaign" where false spoilers were distributed about the film, to mask any true rumors about its plot.
Wikipedia discloses spoilers in its articles without giving advance warning. Matthew Prichard, the grandson of Agatha Christie, criticized Wikipedia for giving away spoilers in the play "The Mousetrap". Andrew Jarecki, the producer of Catfish, a documentary, argued that Wikipedia should have spoiler alerts. The plot of Catfish had been posted on Wikipedia before its theatrical release because the film had been aired at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Jay Walsh, a Wikimedia Foundation spokesperson, said that Wikipedia is intended to be an exhaustive knowledge source, so it would have spoilers.
Some internet forums and reference sites, such as TVtropes and the IMDb FAQ section, have optional spoiler tags covering major plot details. The information underneath may be revealed by highlighting the text or, in the case of IMDb, rolling over the spoiler tag.
In 2011, Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt of UC San Diego did a psychological experiment testing whether spoilers actually diminish enjoyment of fiction. They gave subjects short stories with twist endings to read, giving some of the subjects information about the twist in advance. For nearly every story, subjects who had the story "spoiled" actually enjoyed the story more than the subjects who didn't know the ending in advance.
Ebert used two spoiler warnings in the article, saying "If you have not yet seen Million Dollar Baby and know nothing about the plot, read no further" and later said, "Now yet another spoiler warning, because I am going to become more explicit." Ebert discussed six films in the article and mentioned how many critics handled The Crying Game and also noted a detail about the film The Year of Living Dangerously. Ebert also mentioned two films alongside Million Dollar Baby.
Ebert additionally criticized two commentators, Rush Limbaugh and Michael Medved (the latter of whom "for a long time been a political commentator, not a movie critic"), for deliberately revealing the ending of the movie due to a moral disagreement with the lead character's life decision. "[S]hould no movie be allowed to consider [the moral issue]?" Ebert asked. "The separation of church and state in America was wisely designed to prevent religions from dictating the personal choices of those who do not share the same beliefs."
In an interview about his Dark Tower series (appearing in issue #4 of the 2007 Marvel Comic adaptation The Gunslinger Born), Stephen King was asked if there are spoilers in the first few novels that would ruin someone's experience of the comic. "There are no spoilers!", King replied, "You might as well say 'I'm never gonna watch Wizard of Oz again because I know how it comes out'".
The 2008 Doctor Who two-part story Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead introduced the concept of "spoilers" within the story's time travel narrative, with the enigmatic character River Song using the term to refer to her foreknowledge of future events. This use continued through her subsequent appearances in The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone and The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon. The term is often used whilst River Song is consulting a diary charting her encounters with The Doctor as due to the vagaries of time travel they keep meeting in the wrong order. The executive producer of Doctor Who Steven Moffat expressed disappointment with fans who revealed spoilers after a pirate copy of The Impossible Astronaut was made available online before the episode's first television broadcast.