Another season of House of Cards has begun streaming on Netflix, which means another 13 episodes of thrilling to Frank Underwood's machinations--and assiduously avoiding spoilers on your assorted social networks from people who've managed to binge-watch the show before you.
You don't necessarily have to spend the next few days scanning Twitter or Facebook while peeking through your fingers, lest you spot any plot details you'd just as soon keep under wraps. A few developers have taken the world's "No spoilers please!" requests to heart, producing apps that filter out plot twists and sports scores from your social media feeds.
I've been trying out an app called Spoiler Shield, available for both Android and iOS, during the Winter Olympics so that I can remain blissfully unaware of results from Sochi until NBC deigns to show me the tape-delayed action here on the West Coast. And while Spoiler Shield has a definite appeal for sports fans who'd like to keep the score of that game they're DVRing under wraps--in addition to Olympic results, the app lets you filter out NFL, MLB, and NBA tweets and Facebook posts that mention specific teams--the app has plenty to offer spoiler-sensitive TV fans as well. A recent update brought the number of shows filtered out by Spoiler Shield to around 50; in addition to House of Cards, you can also choose to remain ignorant about the goings-on with American Idol, Game of Thrones, True Detective, and more. A forthcoming update promises to add Academy Award filters before the March 2 Oscars ceremony.
Spoiler Shield is pretty easy to set up. It's simply a matter of scrolling through the assorted categories, and toggling on the switches for whatever you'd like to remain in the dark about when perusing Facebook and Twitter. You then view modified versions of your social media feeds through the app. Spoiler Shield's makers say the app uses a proprietary algorithm to filter out unwanted details on the shows and sports you've selected. A yellow and blue shield pops up in your timeline covering any potential spoilers; if you just can't bear the suspense, you can double tap that shield to dismiss and learn the horrible truth about the women's skeleton results.
But does it work? For the most part, yes--at least when it comes to Sochi spoilers. I saw more than a few shields pop up in my timeline, particularly when NBC's coverage began on the East Coast, still three hours from when I would be able to view highlights. That said, a few tweets managed to slip past Spoiler Shield's safeguards. The app seems unaware that curling is an Olympic event, as tweets about curling routinely landed on my timeline; other times, I think it was simply a matter of tweets not containing the magic words that would trigger Spoiler Shield's algorithm. The app has an impressive success rate, but in the spoiler game, all it takes is one ill-timed tweet to ruin the surprise.
TV-related spoiler screening seems like it would be more effective on Spoiler Shield. My House of Cards shield didn't let anything through at least, blocking even anticipatory tweets about the new season as well as posts from people proclaiming no interest in the show at all. Another reason the app works better with programs airing on specific dates like TV shows rather than ongoing events like basketball and the Olympics: Spoiler Shield really isn't a full-fledged Twitter client. You can post your own tweets and retweet and favorite the others, but you can't reply or monitor your interactions. It's really an app to use when you know the spoilers are going to fly fast and furious before you can safely retreat to the Twitter client of your choice.
Spoiler Shield isn't the only spoiler-blocking game in town. I've also been testing an app called BloKO to keep the Olympic spoilers at bay. BloKO is decidedly more limited than Spoiler Shield: It only blocks sports (in addition to the Olympics, you can filter NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and MMA social media posts) and it's only available on iOS. It's also not as effective as Spoiler Shield, at least not in my tests.
Part of the problem seems to be with BloKO's approach to Olympic filtering. Rather than one Olympics category, BloKO features Olympic filters for a dozen different countries. Forget to set one of those, and the odds of an Olympic result sneaking through increase, as I learned when I discovered that Evgeni Plushenko had pulled out of the men's figure skating competition because I didn't select the Russian Olympic filter.
BloKO is essentially a Web browsing app--in addition to Facebook and Twitter, the app offers spoiler-free browsing of Yahoo and ESPN as well as NBC's Olympic site and the official site of the Sochi games. (If you want a spoiler-free look at those last two destinations, I might argue that you are unclear on the concept of spoilers.) The browsing can be a little bit clunky, and BloKO's interface isn't the friendliest I've ever experienced. It's an option if there's a major sporting event you'd like to keep under the radar, but don't expect a seamless experience.
Google Chrome users have another option--an extension called Twivo. Billed as "Tivo for Twitter," the extension inserts a box at the top of the Twitter website. Type search terms in that box--"House of Cards," say--and hit Record. Twivo filters out tweets that match that term, saving them to playback later after you've left the spoiler-free zone. The extension's interface doesn't offer a lot of visual cues to let you know you're screening out tweets, but I managed to make it work after some experimentation.
The first rule of spoiler etiquette is that the burden falls on you to remain in the Cone of Silence until you've watched whatever program has people chattering. No technological filter is going to be perfect--not in a world of binge-watching and inconsistently deployed hashtags--but at least there are some tools at your disposal that can keep you from finding out what Frank Underwood, Tyrion Lannister, and those zombies on The Walking Dead are up to until you're good and ready.