Spoiler warnings may be tweaked

Even casual Wikipedia readers are likely aware of the epic battle over the use of spoiler warnings that erupted last week. If one has recently seen {{spoiler}}, which is linked to by thousands of pages, it is known that it carried a message tempting a visit to this request for comment, which is nearly 100,000 words long.

The drama began Tuesday, when Phil Sandifer (talk · contribs) proposed the deletion of the entire page formerly known as Wikipedia:Spoiler warning. It had previously been considered to be part of the Manual of Style, and accordingly was labelled a guideline. His main point of argument pointed to the lead section of articles, which are supposed to provide stand-alone summaries of the remaining content. The example he gave was The Crying Game, where the guideline makes writing a summarizing lead section impossible. The spoiler guideline at the beginning of May recommended that "editors avoid placing spoilers in edit summaries or section headers", with a similar recommendation for the lead section. Meanwhile, his deletion request, made as miscellany for deletion, quickly drew participants, the majority of whom agreed with Sandifer. Several editors cited a common argument, "Wikipedia is not censored", in their push to have spoiler warnings removed. Kusma advocated for deletion alongside Sandifer, mentioning that the German Wikipedia does not use such warnings because proper encyclopedias do not either.

Simultaneously, discussion was underway for the deletion of {{spoiler}}, but it was quickly realized that debate over the existence of the policy page itself should precede it. Discussions for the template was terminated, with a note left by Tony Sidaway stating so. All discussion was eventually consolidated to one page, a request for comment. Early on, several editors made it clear that they wanted the policy changed to allow leads to provide complete summaries of both fiction and non-fiction. Wednesday, DESiegel provided eight suggestions for change. He argued in favour of the inclusion of all plot elements in lead sections. In an effort to reduce the thousands of articles that are currently tagged, he recommended the exclusion of warnings from "widely known works such as the Bible, the plays of Shakespeare". Tony Sidaway agreed, pointing out that Wikipedia's content disclaimer already warns of the revelation of plot elements. Several editors counterargued, claiming that the majority of readers reach articles through Google and other searches, and are therefore unlikely to even come across the content disclaimer. Lexicon argued for their removal because the definition of a spoiler itself is subjective, and such warnings may prohibit readers from reading content that may not have hampered their enjoyment of the works at all.

Phil Sandifer tried to get the discussion back on track late Thursday, outlining the remaining issues. He stood by his initial position, stating that writing articles was very difficult because content outside of demarcated spoiler zones had to remain neutral, but could not do so if certain story elements were off-limits. In another section, Sandifer began to question the age of works, that is, the length of time since their release and the effective that time has on the inclusion of warnings. Cop 633 stepped in with his views, making a firm statement that the age of fiction should not have an effect on the presence of spoiler warnings.

Discussion continued Thursday, nearly around the clock. By early Friday, it seemed the arguments for the removal of spoiler warnings outnumbered those against. An unusually high number of comments to the discussion were made anonymously, most by an editor who wanted spoilers to remain. The user,, was later blocked for twenty-four hours because of repetitive replacement of a spoiler warning on Sleeping Beauty. In any event, by late Friday, dialogue on the RfC had virtually stalled; many arguments and counterpoints were being continually repeated. Uncle G then threw the ball far in the direction of deletion, addressing the issue of spoiler warnings in other encyclopedias. He used Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopaedia as an example; an encyclopedia which includes pieces on various works of science fiction, revealing many plot elements with no forewarning. Several editors promptly agreed, thanking him for adding significantly to the discussion. Kizor, however, cited Uncle G's arguments in a couple of his own for the defense of spoiler tags, insisting that Wikipedia is unlike any paper encyclopedia and should be looked at in a different light.

The continuing conference temporarily lightened early Friday, but showed no signs of halting. Edison repeated the argument that Wikipedia is always a frontrunner in internet searches, and readers/movie-goers are certainly to be disappointed if they encounter something crucial to the plot in the opening sentences of an article. Most in opposition to him stood by their core arguments, quoting the content disclaimer and remarking that such users should be disregarded because Wikipedia has no obligation to their disappointment.

Wow. I just copied and pasted this whole discussion onto a Word document. It was 114 pages long. This is really ridiculous.


Earlier discussion from the Shakespeare play Hamlet that concluded Friday regarding the matter was also transcluded to the RfC, on the basis that it not be modified. Later, Farix initiated three straw polls in an effort to determine where users stand on the issue. In the first poll, which noted the use of spoiler warnings in classical and historical works, ten supported the use, while twenty-two opposed. The second poll, which concerned warnings in fairy tales, was much more one-sided. Only four of twenty-seven voters wanted spoilers in such articles, and three of the four thought it should be decided article-by-article. The final poll, which asked Should spoiler warnings be placed in sections titled "Plot", "Plot summary", "Synopses", or any variation thereof?, thirteen supported spoilers while twenty opposed. As of press time, votes were still being added to all three polls. However, as a preliminary result of the polls and their subsequent discussion, Wikipedia:Spoiler is currently marked as a "proposed policy, guideline, or process." Initially, it appears the use of warnings will be significantly reduced. Wikipedia:No disclaimer templates has also been slightly modified, no longer freely allowing spoilers as an exception to the guideline.

PaddyLeahy was concerned Saturday about the "premature removal of spoiler warnings", since the guideline was still changing. Farix comically suggested the whole situation be added to Wikipedia:Lamest edit wars, a page on which conflicts which have little substance and end-value are listed. Later Saturday, a proposal by ARC Gritt for hierarchical spoiler templates was quickly shot down. Ed chipped in late Sunday with his reasoning as to why spoilers should be kept. Kizor and Sidaway, among others, responded with counterarguments that had been seen earlier in the week. Another straw poll, slightly less serious than the previous three, was then initiated by Kizor asking, "Are spoiler warnings condescending or insulting to readers?" Only nine users voted, with six saying 'no'.

+ Add a comment

Discuss this story

There are some interesting comments and an hilarious image in a blog post by User:David Gerard here. Circeus 00:54, 19 May 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Thanks. I'm definitely mentioning that. -- Phoenix2 (talk, review) 23:10, 21 May 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Is it appropriate to ask about the grounds on which you think that the discussion is concluded? It seems to be continuing quite vigorously. --Kizor 03:14, 22 May 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I tried, but I guess it wasn't clear enough. The whole last bit there is gone now; I, or someone else, will do another summary of the next seven days. -- Phoenix2 (talk, review) 04:16, 22 May 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]


The Signpost · written by many · served by Sinepost V0.9 · 🄯 CC-BY-SA 4.0